The Breath

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The Breath

We were the only two humans there, standing at the top of Brins Mesa, absorbing the incredible stillness into which we’d entered. Hearts racing from the climb, we paused to witness the true majesty of our surroundings. In that moment, nothing else mattered. With chests heaving and legs aching, I was suddenly struck by this realization: all there is, is breath.

I filled up, I emptied out, and there was nothing else to do, but breathe.

Sedona, Arizona. One of my favorite places, and the backdrop for this understanding, or rather, remembering, of the power of the breath.

As a human in the 21st century, I’ve had very few opportunities to truly appreciate just how powerful the breath can be. Yes, as a yoga teacher, I talk about breathing a lot. And yes, I have—and we all have been— breathing since birth. But how often do we allow ourselves to truly experience it? In my case, at least, not nearly enough.

It sounds so simple, right? So why is it so profound? In my case, I can say Sedona pushes me to my limits—physically and emotionally—every time I am there. It has a knack for knowing just what I need and serving me an opportunity to work through it. On this particular day, and perhaps on this entire trip, I was given the reassurance that the breath is there for me, if I only choose to work with it.

And so, as I’ve re-integrated into my daily routine, my responsibilities, my normal life, that wise reminder has remained. We may not know all the answers to our problems. We may not know where to begin. We may not know how to handle what comes next. We may not even know what ‘next’ looks like. But what we do have is our inhale and our exhale. And, if we choose, we can get better acquainted with them. We can know them like we think we know everything else. And we should. Because all of those external distractions, pains, anxieties, even joys, can disappear at any moment. And when obstacles arise and we are pushed to transform, it is often only the breath that can see us through.

If this feels hard to grasp, we can make it easier. Just by noticing how we breathe when we’re at work, with loved ones, spending time outside, spending time doing something we don’t like—this is all information. Ask yourself: If I was just breath, what would my behavior tell me? Do I feel safe and free? Do I feel worried, angry, afraid?

That can be the first step, and maybe the step we play with as we practice deepening our awareness. But then, once we feel comfortable noticing, we might ask a second question: What would it be like if I my breath were smoother, fuller, more complete?

Sometimes, just the question is enough.

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Filling Up

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Filling Up

This Winter, I decided to sign up for a CSA. Distributed every two weeks, this box of community sourced agriculture promises to provide a variety of storage crops (think squash, potatoes, etc.) as well as some other fun locally grown vegetables and pantry items (think apple cider, spelt flour etc.) for the coldest and darkest months of the year.

I’ve never participated in a CSA before, primarily because I really enjoy grocery shopping and as someone who eats mostly plants, I knew this would decrease my shopping trips. But, I have to say, I’m really enjoying it so far. I look forward to my bi-weekly updates on what to expect in the next box, and the challenge of considering how to properly incorporate the sometimes unusual vegetables (like black radish) into my meals. I have, however, also started to notice how much more time consuming seasonal winter vegetables are to cook.

Unlike produce from the warmer months, winter produce is thick skinned, with a natural protective outer layer that allows it to fight off the cold, but that also requires a little more time and attention in the kitchen. Take squash, for example. Just opening it up requires my sharpest knife and my steadiest cutting board. These vegetables demand respect—the effort it takes to plan, prep and cook them heightens the anticipation, creating a sense of hope that the final product will be worth it. And usually, it is.

There is something really special about sitting down with food that has been made with intention, and as the holiday season swings into fullest effect, there is no better time to consider how nourishing the food that graces our tables can be.

It’s not just about the nutrients we gain. Of course, there’s a scientific aspect to how we eat. But, this time of year, there is also a very strong emotional aspect as well.

The dishes we make with or for our families and friends, the meals we share, and the treats we receive, all have a naturally healing quality. Ultimately, I think, what cooking and eating allow us to do, perhaps more tangibly than any other activity, is to give and receive love.

So however you close out the end of your year, see how it feels to make honoring love your priority. As we shift our focus, we make room for our own transformation.

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Purchase With Intention

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Purchase With Intention

I don’t know about you, but I feel like every time I open up my inbox these days, there are at least 10 emails from companies I like, asking me to spend money on a holiday deal. Maybe I haven’t paid attention before, or maybe this year is especially bad, but it is starting to get a little overwhelming. The problem is not that I don’t want to buy these things, but rather, that I really do!

Give me a discount on expensive skincare products, sustainably made clothing, yoga props—whatever it is, and I am sold. I love a good deal, especially on products that I’ve had my eye on for a while. But, ever since Thanksgiving, I’ve been sorting through sale after discount after free shipping offer, feeling less and less capable of actually making a purchase.

There’s something interesting about suddenly having the opportunity to spend less money on everything you like. For me, these widespread discounts have offered some clarity. With everything more appealing than ever before, I’ve also discovered that none of the items I want are actual necessities. And, to a certain degree, the money really wasn’t the issue holding me back.

Sure, it would be nice to have a new face mask option, or a new outfit to teach yoga. But even with these deals, some of these items still aren’t in my budget. And even if they were, they wouldn’t actually be adding anything to my quality of life.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of purchases that really can improve our day-to-day experience (my beloved rice cooker is one of them), but, especially during the holidays, it’s easier than ever to get wrapped up in the sparkly things that may be less impactful in the long run.

I offer this reminder because I have found myself, countless times this month, adding items to an online shopping cart, applying a discount code, looking at the final cost, and really deeply considering if that money would be well spent. And so far, every time, I’ve decided that it’s not. It’s tough to walk away, but when I do it, at least I know I thoroughly evaluated my options.

So if you’ve been feeling beaten down by the intensity of our consumer culture this holiday, take heart. You are not alone. And in moments of doubt, give yourself the opportunity to check in. Decide what feels right in your gut and move forward from there. Maybe you make the purchase, maybe you don’t. But, whatever you choose, let it come from a place of confidence.

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Great Expectations

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Great Expectations

It was a Saturday afternoon and with approximately three hours before I would need to get ready, I was feeling low but sustained levels of anxiety. The problem was not the impending party, or my chosen outfit, or the late-night socializing. The problem was that everyone was asked to bring a snack to share, and I didn’t have even the faintest idea of what I was going to make.

I don’t consider myself an especially last-minute person, but rather, the kind of person that does everything exactly when she wants to, and no sooner. I am notorious for packing my suitcase as close to departure time as possible, and leaving the house for an appointment with as little buffer time as I can manage. Add to this the fact that I feel food is an extension of myself, and that offering up a homemade treat is the equivalent of sharing my heart, and the task of preparing a snack for a group of people in less than three hours suddenly becomes a complex and somewhat tense situation.

So there I was, three cookbooks deep and a few too many tabs open in my browser, adrenaline-filled music playing loudly from my laptop, before I figured out what exactly I was going to make. Double chocolate chip cookies, because cookies and chocolate are never a bad idea. But, half way through I had to modify the recipe, swapping out a few key ingredients and crossing my fingers that it would work out. If it didn’t, I was going to be showing up empty handed, and all because I refused to get my act together a little earlier in the day. I resigned myself to this fate.

But you know what? The cookies turned out to be a major success. Far better than I could have hoped, beloved by many. I couldn’t believe I’d been nervous and dragging my feet about this just hours before.

Setting the Bar Too High

I felt kind of ridiculous when I realized just how many layers of stories had led me to my moment of kitchen crisis, as I raced to figure out how to adequately show my appreciation through food. And that was when I realized how I do this all the time.

How often do we set ourselves up for failure, by the very nature of the unreasonable standards we set for ourselves? In this situation, instead of the cookies being just a kind contribution to a group of loving and supportive people, they became this huge symbol of my gratitude for each person in attendance and an offering upon which my worth would be judged and held against me forever.

Ah, the drama.

It’s kind of funny, really, and maybe this discussion has made you think of a similar situation in your own life. But while recognizing our moments of hysteria are important, what comes next is just as necessary—releasing those stories that keep us wound up. This is, essentially, meditation. Noticing what comes up and then allowing it to carry on its way.

I wish I had been able to do that when I was running around spilling gluten free flour and melting coconut oil, making my kitchen countertops a disaster zone of measuring cups and cocoa powder. But what matters is that we recognize at some point. Being aware in the moment is fantastic, but we might not start there. We might, instead, begin taking stock of what happened that week or that day, just noticing how we handled each obstacle or road block—externally or internally.

How we build ourselves up or tear ourselves down is ultimately our choice. We can put all of our worth into a batch of cookies, or appreciate our efforts, regardless of how the end result turns out. We can always lighten our own load, if we choose. In the end, it’s our call.

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Negative Self-Talk

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Negative Self-Talk

I was one finger tap away from booking my hair appointment. Acutely aware of my own heartbeat, of the adrenaline surging through my veins, of the total amazement I felt at what I was about to do, I hit confirm. And with that, my intention for a few days in New York suddenly became real.

I am a big fan of plans, of looking ahead and making arrangements. And I had not anticipated going to New York next month. I was supposed to have a relaxing time at home for Christmas and New Year’s, before heading back to Pittsburgh in early January to get back to work. But, when I suddenly discovered that my hairdresser had availability in the first few days after the new year and that the majority of my friends would be in town at that time, the opportunity was just too good to ignore. Instead of driving back to Pittsburgh, I would leave Maryland and drive to New York, stay with friends, celebrate my birthday (10 days early), and then continue on to Pittsburgh.

The whole plan fell into place so quickly that I almost didn’t believe it was possible. And while some might not consider a month’s advance notice to be very spontaneous, it all felt pretty electric to me.

But you know what? It almost didn’t happen at all.

Stopping Ourselves Short

As soon as the initial thought of travel popped into my mind, I met it with a stream of stories about why it would be irresponsible to go. “You don’t have money to spend.” “You’re already taking two weeks at home.” “You’ll have to get subs for the classes you’ll miss.” “You’ll miss teaching the first week of classes in the new year.” And on, and on, and on.

Have you ever done something like this? When faced with an incredible and soul-nourishing opportunity, have you suddenly found yourself creating obstacles to embracing it? It’s easy to do, probably easier than we think. And if we’re good storytellers, it can be really tempting to listen to what those stories are saying. But, if we cut down to the core of the narrative, it can help us better understand the real baggage that we carry.

In my case, “You don’t have the money for that,” is really, “Your behavior is reckless.” “You’re already taking two weeks off at home,” is, “You don’t deserve time with the people you love.” “You’ll have to get subs for the classes you’ll miss,” is “You need to be in control.” And “You’ll miss teaching the first week of classes in the new year” is “You’re afraid people won’t come to your classes when you return.”

Am I actually reckless, undeserving, controlling and fearful? This is what I asked myself after unearthing these deeper concerns. And I think the answer is that yes, some part of me is. But it doesn’t have to be. Just by being more aware of how I responded to this chance to do a fun and unexpected trip helps me to make a choice that acknowledges those qualities without choosing to give into them. And the good news is that this is something all of us can do on a daily basis.

When faced with a decision and the many stories we tell ourselves about why we should or should not do something, we always have the chance to check in and get back to the source. And while it may not be easy or fun to realize the extent of the self-criticism we carry, it’s all part of this great big life journey in self awareness.

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Jumping to Conclusions

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Jumping to Conclusions

I was not looking forward to this meeting. After weeks of trying to get in touch with the subject of an interview, for a story I had been assigned weeks prior, I had was reaching the end of my patience. Typically, interviewees were not difficult to find, and after a few email correspondences, we would agree on a time for our in-person meeting. But this subject was different.

I had emailed, only to be told he would be away for the next two weeks. When I called again and left a message, it was never returned. Finally, he reached out to let me know when I could call the office. How generous, I thought, with a silent and unseen roll of my eyes.

After all this back and forth, we finally agreed to do a phone interview, but it had to be at 7pm. No problem, I told myself, at least then it will be done.

Needless to say, I was a little annoyed at having to remain in work mode so late in the evening, and very much over this phone and email tag. Not to mention, I got a little prickly when he called me ‘dear.’ But, I told myself I needed to have an open mind. This was not an opinion piece, after all.

And you know what? I’m so glad I did.

The interview was one of the most interesting and surprising I’d done in a long time. My ever-elusive subject turned out to have an incredible history, combined with a humble and gracious demeanor that endeared me to him in mere minutes. When our conversation was over, I hung up the phone so pleasantly energized, grateful that it turned out so much differently than I had expected.

Not Expecting the Unexpected

Has this ever happened to you—a situation you were dreading turned out to be lightyears better than you had thought possible? It feels kind of magical when it does. There is something so amazing about what can happen when we allow an event to be what it is, instead of pinning it down to what we believe it can be.

The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realized just how much time I spend deciding how I will feel about something, instead of just allowing myself to feel it. It’s kind of crazy to see that particular neurosis written down, but I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. After all, doesn’t it feel safer to convince ourselves that we know what to expect, even when the notion that we have any control at all over life’s twists and turns could not be further from the truth? It’s nice to think, ‘Oh, I know how I’ll handle this,’ or ‘I know what so-and-so will think about that.’ But really, by buying into these stories, the joke ends up being on us.

Just as in this interview, there is no way to know how any situation is going to work out. And while we can do our best to force it into our assumption box, that will ultimately only limit our experience, and lead to us missing out on the fuller picture.

So, friends, let’s make an effort to let go of our self-imposed limitations, noticing when our judgement starts to pop up, acknowledging it, but resolving to keep an open mind.

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Put It In Perspective

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Put It In Perspective

I was subbing a yoga class mere hours after I returned from Thanksgiving. I’m not sure what made me think this would be a good idea when I first volunteered, and I have the distinct feeling that I actually thought I was going to be returning the day before. But, whatever led me to this situation, there was no getting out. So, having dropped my things in my apartment, I changed into teaching clothes and made my way to the studio.

One of the key aspects of leading a yoga class is being grounded enough to hold space for other people. You leave your baggage at the door (or carefully disguise it), so that the class is an offering for those who arrive, looking to work through their own stuff. This is not so difficult when you’re in a normal routine, teaching your regular class. But, when you’ve just had a doctor’s appointment, driven four and a half hours, and not yet had time to unpack—as I had on that fateful day—this can be a little more challenging.

Fortunately, one of my mentors and teachers was also there. She empathized with my poor planning, but then said, “Well, it’s just an hour. And we’re not coal miners.”

Speak the Truth

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this—slightly overwhelmed with the tasks you’ve agreed to perform, until something or someone snaps you back into reality? That is exactly what happened to me here, and was precisely the reminder that I needed.

Often, I have found, that when we get in over our heads, it’s really easy to get stuck there, to swim in the stress stew that we’ve made, without seeking the ladder to get out. It feels more comfortable, in some ways, to simply keep acknowledging that our choices have led us to this chaotic state, than to wade out and put it all in perspective. That’s what friends, mentors, people other than ourselves, are really good for.

In that moment, it seemed almost laughable that I was ever doubting whether it was a good idea to sub this class at all. Of course, it may not have been the most convenient option, but it was certainly doable. An hour, in the scheme of things, is basically the blink of an eye. And teaching yoga in a temperature controlled room for a loving and receptive community, is not exactly hard physical labor.

See With Clarity

It’s amazing what a little perspective can do. And while I would never want any of us to minimize the importance of our feelings and experiences, it can be helpful for our own sanity, to just take a step back and check in with the reality of what is happening. It is, after all, not so far a leap from mindfulness, of bringing ourselves into the present moment. Instead of spinning through thoughts of, “I can’t believe I decided to do this,” or, “This was such a poor choice, what was I thinking?” we can say, “I am here, and this is what I am doing.”

This act of bringing ourselves into the present, especially when we are simmering in that stress stew, tends to turn down the heat, making our current situation a little clearer and more bearable. And sometimes, that is all we need to go from one moment to the next.

So this week, let’s seek out those reminders of sanity. Whether they come from others or come from ourselves, let’s remember the importance of perspective in getting us through the obstacles that attempt to block our way and allowing us to live with a little more ease.

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December Word of the Month: Cherish

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December Word of the Month: Cherish

cherish

VERB

  • protect and care for someone lovingly

  • hold something dear

Whenever I sit down to write these posts, I reflect back on important themes that are going on in my own life, lessons that I’m learning that feel relevant to share with all of you, so that we can, in some small way, work through them together. Sometimes a word immediately comes to mind, but this month’s was not so easy. I had an idea of the feeling I wanted to convey, the intangible, full-belly satisfaction that comes from being really attuned with friends and family. But the word that captured it? That took a little while longer to find.

Ultimately, the inspiration came while reading an email for photo books, or something completely random. But once I saw it, I knew there was no other word that would suffice for our final 2018 Word of the Month.

Cherish is, after all, the perfect intention for a time of year that can be overrun with parties, events, drama, and all the chaos that comes from the work and play that has to get done before the year comes to a close. Amidst all of this activity, it’s easy to get lost in the busyness, forgetting to stop and really enjoy, or at the very least, be fully present for each moment.

Fortunately, cherish invites us back to our core, to what matters, to a more mindful way of approaching festivities, and really, our day-to-day experience.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I felt so grateful for the ability to just spend time with people I love, without worrying about work or relationships or anything else that wasn’t happening in that present moment. It was the first time in a long time I felt I was truly able to tune into the quality time, and it was far more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined.

That level of fulfillment was so nourishing, so refreshing, I knew I needed to make space for more.

In your own life, are there traditions or routines you feel yourself only sort of phoning in? Half paying attention to while your mind (or your thumb) leads you to another realm of distraction? No judgement, if so. We all do it. And even with this intention I know I likely will still catch myself falling out of awareness. But it’s not about being perfect. It’s really just about making the effort.

So this month, and perhaps each day moving forward, let’s set our attention on cherishing the time we get to spend, doing everything from the extraordinary to the mundane. Because none of us are going to be here forever. And as the calendar rolls over into a new year, there is never a better time to begin to fully appreciate the big and small moments of our lives.

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Opting Out

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Opting Out

It was the morning of Black Friday and I was completely overwhelmed. My inbox was flooded with deals and discounts, all from companies selling products I really wanted, often with prices that felt too far out of reach for a more routine purchase. I opened each email with wonder, clicking through to the websites to see how much I would be saving. Did I want the slouchy pants? The multi-use wrap? The facial serum? Yes, yes, yes! I wanted everything. But since my budget would not allow it, I paused to do a little self inventory.

  • How much would I be spending on this item?

  • How do I feel when I think about spending my money on this particular want?

  • Is this a pure want, or do I have an actual need for it?

  • Do I already own something similar that I can continue using if I don’t make this purchase?

Sometimes, even after asking myself these questions, I would put an item in a shopping cart, and pause again. And after all of this, I ended up realizing that I didn’t want to buy any of these assumed ‘wants’ at all.

Have you ever gone through something like this? A moment of intense, almost frenzied, desire for something—a purchase, a job, a relationship—followed by a calmer, more level-headed understanding? For me, there was almost a sense of relief in realizing that I didn’t have to buy into any of the sales. But even more than that, I could release the idea that my life would be better with any of the things I thought I wanted to purchase.

Saying a Radical No

It’s funny how easy it is to get caught up in our desire, without checking in to see more clearly where that desire begins. Clearly, this is something that happens to me all the time. But I don’t think I’m the only one. And, frankly, given that we live in a culture driven by constant consumption, it can feel almost impossible to escape these impulse-fueled binges into whatever our latest passion has become.

This danger of falling down the impulse rabbit hole feels especially resonant as we enter into the holiday season. Black Friday is merely a symptom of a much larger and chronic condition, where we are forced to navigate a world that is designed to make us feel as though what we already own, what we already do, who we already are, isn’t enough. And while there is nothing wrong with seeking a change in our lives, it’s important, in the face of these very real external forces, to make sure the desire for those changes is starting from within, and not from without.

Of course, for most of us, feeling the need for a change likely comes from all sides—from the voices we hear around us, as well as the voice we hear inside. So, in a very practical sense, it’s up to us to determine the balance. What advice is worth heeding? What is love? What is fear?

Whenever I have a big choice to make, I check in to make sure that I am not being led astray by fear. I have made countless choices to date that were out of fear—fear of not making enough money, fear of being disappointing, fear of XYZ, the list can go on. And every time I made a fear-based decision, I ultimately had to learn a lesson before I could move forward.

So this week, friends, let’s all check in with our internal drivers. As we begin to notice what is inspiring each choice, we may come to see ourselves and our lives more clearly.

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Being Alone vs. Being Lonely

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Being Alone vs. Being Lonely

On a recent Sunday evening, I was in my apartment, eating dinner. My favorite podcast was playing in the background as I sat, feeling warm and content. It was already dark outside, making the soft glow of my kitchen lights even more inviting, and the sound of the podcast hosts’ voices even more familiar. I felt a genuine flush of satisfaction and, at the same moment, a realization that I was alone. It wasn’t a bad feeling, but rather, a simple acknowledgement, an awareness of my current state.

I became curious about this, the simultaneous realization of being alone and being content. So often, our culture tends to push us towards togetherness, towards spending time with people—friends, family, romantic partners—instead of spending time with ourselves. And while I do love being around people I cherish, I’ve come to embrace the fact that I also really love being around myself.

It’s important to remember that being alone and being lonely are two different things, though they often get conflated. And while being alone can feel great, I am fully aware of the very slippery slope that can take us from content aloneness to despairing loneliness. The distinction between these two is something I have been working with since I graduated from college, and I have a feeling, it is a balancing act that will continue for the rest of my life. Because it’s an important one.

At the end of the day, the only person who will travel our whole life with us, is ourself. And so it is up to us to figure out how we’re going to make that journey.

Where do you see yourself in this conversation? What shows up in your body and your mind when you are faced with being alone and being lonely? Where does one stop and the other begin? It may initially seem out of place to broach this conversation as we enter into the busy fullness of the holiday season. But, these hectic times can also throw our feelings into stark relief, shining light on quiet realities that lie dormant or out of sight during the rest of the year.

So, let’s bring everything to the surface. It is only once we can see ourselves clearly that we can make a choice as to how we’d like to move forward.

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