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Gratitude Without Spiritual Bypassing

According to the 8 Limb Path outlined in the Yoga Sutras, practicing gratitude is a key ingredient to health and happiness. The Sanskrit word for this attitude of contentment is: santosha.

Santosha is a lens. It’s a way of looking at your experiences through the filter of gratitude. When we embody santosha, we’re choosing to end the war with reality.

Much of our experiences are beyond our control. Rather than expend energy resisting and expressing frustration, the mark of a yoga practice is the ability to embrace your experience as it is. 

Yoga is not, however, about spiritual bypassing.

What Is Spiritual Bypassing?

Spiritual bypassing is when you use spiritual practices or ideology to ignore or deny pain or hardship. Rather than address valid struggles, a spiritual bypasser insists on oversimplified solutions or refuses to acknowledge the challenge altogether.

In communities focused on personal development, I’ve noticed a tendency to glaze over the real, challenging and sometimes dark aspects of life. This often comes in the form of trite phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or my (least) favorite catchy saying “good vibes only.”

News flash, if you’re a human being, you will experience the shadow side of life. The more you run from it, the more devastating it will be when it takes you out.

When we talk about santosha, we are not talking about ignoring the hard stuff.

Yes and Yes

One of the promises of a consistent yoga practice is the ability to hold two opposing ideas together, comfortably.

In time, it’s possible for the yogi to simultaneously acknowledge heartache and abundance. You can admit your feelings of disappointment, overwhelm, or fear and also choose to focus your attention on where you have power to influence your experience.

When you focus on the good, the beautiful and the gifts that challenges bring, those things magnify.

On the other hand, when you focus on things that are beyond your control, you expend an exorbitant amount of energy working tirelessly against yourself.

Operating from santosha means you recognize that your experiences are neither good nor bad, but rather opportunities. More often than not, the dark times in life are the greatest opportunities for growth, new perspective, and healing.

Freedom Is Your Reward

The beauty of santosha, this choice to soften into life exactly as it unfolds, is that you can experience a freedom and a peace that passes all understanding.

It wasn’t until I understood that I had the choice to change the way I frame the events of my life that I realized how much power I have to create joy in all circumstances! This is the mindset that allows me to move through days filled with obstacles in a way where I feel the abundance of life.

I wholeheartedly agree with the quote from Oprah Winfrey that says gratitude turns what we have into enough.

Don’t BS Yourself

I recognize that I’m speaking from a place of privilege. There are tragedies and darkness and I’ve never experienced. This isn’t intended to undermine the reality of life and how dismal it can be. What it is is an experience of shifting the way I move through the world from things happening to me to things happening for me. I invite you to do the same!

Let me be clear: I don’t believe that it is necessary to be grateful for difficulty directly. I do however believe that there is always a gift to unveil, however deeply buried, from even the most difficult circumstances.

Pain, sorrow, anger, the full range of human experiences need to be given space and to be validated. If you’re currently walking through the mud, I hear you and I see you. You’re allowed to be where you are and feel what you feel.

At the same time, if you’re reading this you woke up this morning and you breathed in air. That alone is a gift! If there’s no other reason to feel grateful today, you have your breath you have life. How will you choose to use it?

Are You Making This Rookie Yoga Mistake?

I see it all the time: a yoga class full of people of various ages with different bodies, levels of experience and goals all doing the same movements at the same pace.

“What’s wrong with that?” You may be wondering.

A lot, actually.

You may be confused and thinking to yourself, “isn’t that the goal in a yoga class? To move and breath together?”

Many Yogis believe that a “good” student does what the teacher says to do. A “good” yogi inhales when they’re told to inhale and exhales when they’re told to exhale. They definitely don’t do their own thing in class because that would be rude, right?

Wrong.

Thinking Differently About Poses

First of all, there’s no such thing as a “bad Yogi”! There are beginner Yogis and more experienced Yogis, but neither one is better or worse than the other.

One big different between a beginner and a more experienced practitioner is this:

Seasoned Yogis give themselves permission to customize their practice.

It makes perfect sense that new students feel unsure and have the desire to do the poses “right.” Wisely, they want to avoid injury and maximize the benefits of the postures.

What they don’t yet understand, however, is that what makes a pose “right” for you is more than likely very different from what makes it “right” for me. The only way for you to discover what is right for you is to listen to your body above all else.

“Listening to your body” may sound hippy-dippy, but it’s actually very practical. It means that you pay attention to sensations in your body. Simple as that!

You’re the only one who has lived inside your body. Therefore, you’re the only one who could possibly know what’s best for you. No matter how well intentioned or experienced an instructor may be, they cannot know what’s best for you.

Instead of allowing any insight from a teacher to be law in your mind, use it to support your own inquiry. If something a teacher suggests feels good, go with it!

On the other hand, if a cue from the teacher doesn’t inherently feel right in your body, you absolutely have the right to choose something else!

Your Breath, Your Pace!

Secondly, you have a unique breath pace and ratio between your inhales and your exhales. There’s no way that a group of 30 very different humans could all be breathing in sync if they are choosing the ideal pace for their body on any given day.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve taken yoga classes where the whole room syncs up with the instructor’s cues and the rhythm of the music, and it definitely feels amazing to groove together. The synchronicity elicits a level of connection that fills the room with palpable positive energy, and I’m a fan of that for sure!

What I’m not a fan of is a student feeling the need to compromise their breath connection in order to stay with the group.

Not only does this pressure to conform limit their ability to tap into the power of their full breath capacity, it often leads new yogis to criticize themselves.

“Why can’t I keep up?” the new yogi wonders. “I must be doing something wrong.”

If you’ve ever doubted yourself in this way, let me remind you: there’s nothing wrong with moving to the beat of your own drum in a group asana class. The teacher sets a pace, typically at a “middle of the road” rhythm, and you can move more quickly or more slowly based on the timing of your inhales and exhales.

Let Your Goal Be Your Guide

Finally, we all come to the mat with different goals. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, you should choose the postures, breathing technique, and pace that will move you closer to your goal.

If our goals are different, our practice should also be different.

Are you looking to build more strength? Give yourself plenty of time to hold poses for multiple rounds of breath to challenge your muscles.

Are you hoping to relax your mind and create a more peaceful inner world? Focus on a breath ration where your exhales exceed your inhales by one or two seconds.

In order to know how to approach your practice to align with your goal, you first must get very clear on what that goal is! Then, explore which postures, styles of breath, and conditions create that desired effect.

Conclusion

The mistake that I see most new yoga students make is following directions from their teacher too closely.

The job of a yoga teacher is not to “fix” what you are doing “wrong.” The guidance of a well-trained instructor can provide insight and support as you discover what works best for you, however, it’s up to you to decide when to go your own way in honor of your goal for practice.

The beauty of this practice is that we have a variety of tools, all with different intended results. The more we practice, the better adept we are at picking up the tool that will meet our needs in the best way possible!

It takes courage to go against the grain, to trust your intuition and resist going along with the crowd. I assure you: if you are willing to be brave, you will experience a connection to yourself that you couldn’t otherwise attain.

Give it a try, Yogi, and then let me know how it goes!

Yoga Sutras: 4 Radical Truths For More Inner Peace

I often hear Yoga teachers and students alike confess that they’re excited to learn more about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and take their yoga practice off the mat. The challenge is that they either don’t know where to turn or they feel intimidated by the mystery of ancient yoga texts.

It isn’t easy or sexy to sit with a dense text written in a foreign language and attempt to unpack hidden gems by yourself (unless of course you are a mega-yoganerd like me who geeks out on this stuff!).

That’s why I’ve distilled some golden nuggets of wisdom from the Yoga Sutras into 4 mindset shifts that will provide an opportunity to see both your practice and your Self in a new way. These nuggets may be simple, but don’t let that fool you! If you apply these insights to your everyday life, you will undoubtedly experience a sense of peace that can create lasting change.

What are the Yoga Sutras?

The Yogasutra of Patanjali is the foundational text on Yoga and dates back to 400CE or earlier. Patanjali is the sage who gathered the insights about Yoga passed on for centuries through oral tradition, and composed these teachings into195 pieces of wisdom divided into 4 chapters.

The word sutra means “thread” and is essentially a sentence or a verse packed with time tested solutions for living abundantly.

In a world that seems to be continually creating separation between groups of people and ways of thinking, I adore the fact that the Sutras are available and applicable to everyone!

Let me be clear: Yoga is not a religion!

Although the Yoga Sutras are a part of Vedic tradition, the tools outlined in this text can be practiced whether or not you ascribe to a particular religion. These teachings describe a wide variety of tools to support the Yogi in arriving to a state of Samadhi, or bliss.

Having a God-consciousness is one of the options, but it’s just that: an option. Whether your relationship with God is paramount in your life, or you don’t believe in God at all, the wisdom of the Sutras pair beautifully with any worldview.

My love for the Yoga Sutras has grown over the years as I implement the wisdom into my daily life and witness suffering be replaced with joy! If you’re a student or teacher of Yoga and you have yet to fall in love with this text, hold on to your horses ‘cause this stuff’s good!

Radical Truth #1

You are not your mind

Before I found my practice, I was riddled with anxiety and depression and felt confused and helpless. I felt like the victim of my mind and was burdened by the constant flux of thoughts. Most of the time my thoughts were self-deprecating and heavy. When my mind was buzzing with worry, my days felt miserable. Being at the mercy of my own inner dialogue felt like a prison.

When I began to practice Yoga regularly, slowly but surely I experienced a shift; I noticed that there was space between myself and my thoughts. This was one of the most pivotal realizations in my life. It was the beginning of freedom! I recognized that I am not defined by the contents of my mind. I understood for this first time that I could have anxious thoughts, depressed thoughts, angry thoughts, and none of them determine who I am.

Patanjali calls the unchanging part of you, purusa. This is your truest self. Your mind, on the other hand, citta, is a part of the changing world. It is the lens through which you view the world, your filter, but it most certainly is not you.

This can be confusing because the voice in our mind is so familiar. I mean, it sounds just like you, right? But if you can become aware of the fact that you are having thoughts, then that’s evidence enough that those thoughts and “you” are two separate things.

Whoa – are you having a mind-blown moment? I know I did when this hit me for real!

Radical Truth #2

Your mind creates your reality

Now that you can distinguish between your mind and your true self, it is important to understand the power of your mind.

According to the Yoga Sutras, what you focus on expands! It’s as if your mind is a magical magnifying glass. When you shine the light of your attention on something, it becomes more and more real.

Have you ever seen a video of a kid learning to ride a bike in a wide-open street, and they somehow manage to crash into the one car present? Why is that? They have so much open space, yet it’s like they are drawn to the car by a magnet. It’s because they’re looking at, and focusing on, the car! They quite literally draw themselves into the crash by setting their attention on what they are trying to avoid. Rookie mistake!

This truth applies to everything we do! When we focus on a problem, the problem becomes bigger and bigger. If we imagine the worst possible outcome, guess what happens? We help to bring that unwanted outcome into existence!

As a co-creator of your experience, as a conscious Yogi, you can use the power of your mind to work in your favor! Instead of focusing on what you want to avoid, focus on the solution!

Do you feel lonely and isolated and crave community? Notice every positive interaction with a stranger you have throughout the day. Choose to smile at each person you pass in the grocery store. Focus on the one friend you can count on to lend an ear when you need it. Use the magic of your attention to focus on what is working, and watch it grow!

Radical Truth #3

Yoga is not a practice of the body

Say what???

This is the practice: gaining tools to become skilled at using your mind as an asset!

So often I see Yogis hyper-focused on asana, the physical poses of Yoga. Although the poses are highly effective in creating positive change at multiple levels of the Self, they are only one tool of the practice! Having an aesthetically pleasing, or “strong” physical practice is not the goal. The goal is to experience less suffering in our inner world, and we do that by becoming the master of our minds!

Asana as we think of it today, was not even introduced until thousands of years after the Yoga tradition arose. The physical poses were added to the practice as a means of cultivating more energy and creating comfort in the body so that a Yogi could sit in meditation without pain or distress.

Think about it this way: how comfortable is it to sit on the floor cross legged if your ankles, knees, hips and spine have limited mobility and minimal strength? Pretty unpleasant!

According to the Yoga Sutras, the role of asana is to care for the physical layer of the Self, the Annamaya. The aim is to be unencumbered by the distraction of illness, injury, or other ailments. If we spend all our time and energy working on asana, we miss out on the opportunity to experience the true liberation that comes from time spent training the mind to focus on one thing at a time.

Radical Truth #4

You are not broken

Yoga is not about fixing you. It’s not about getting a six-pack, losing weight, or holding a handstand. This lifestyle is about learning to see yourself for who you truly are: a radiant light of clarity and peace. My teacher, Katie Allen of Be The Change Yoga, refers to Yoga as a waste removal system. It’s not a practice of addition, but rather of subtraction.

You are already whole, lovable, and worthy. There is nothing you need to do to earn this state of wholeness. The problem is, as humans we accumulate junk that can dim our light, or cover it completely. Thankfully, the Yoga Sutras provide us with a variety of tools (asana, pranayama, affirmations, etc.) to do the work of clearing away this debris so that we can live our lives from the place of stillness and connection that lies beneath the surface.

Let your practice be one of love and compassion for yourself. Understand that you, like every other human being, experience suffering because the mind is a trickster! You have the choice to allow your mind to lie to you, to tell you that when you achieve x,y,z you will be happy, or lovable.

The truth is, a deep sense of wellbeing is available to you at any moment, because who you are is beyond circumstance, beyond this moment, and beyond the thoughts or feelings you have about this moment.

This practice is not about changing yourself, or even improving yourself, it’s about unlearning everything that has come between you and your innate joy!

FREE GUIDE

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have the potential to take your yoga practice to new heights and offer you more inner peace!


Top 10 Yoga Sutras
Every Yogi Should Know

Dive deeper into these teachings in a way that is relatable to you! In this guide, I deconstruct & demystify 10 of the most life-enhancing sutras for the modern Yogi to apply in practical ways. 

Hey Mama: Lazy’s Not A Bad Word! Reclaiming Your Right To Take It Easy, Guilt Free

My husband walked in the door at 8pm, after a 10 hour work day, and greeted me, “Hey love, how was your day?”

“Good. Lazy. I didn’t get much done, but Ginny’s sound asleep,” I tattled on myself.

Am I the only one who does this? Discredits how much energy I pour into my day, into my students, into my family, into my life?

Um, hello Kelsey: You kept a tiny human alive today! NBD…

Let’s cut this self-sabotage out together – okay?

We live in a “hustle” culture, a “because of 4am” culture, a “stay at work later than the next guy” culture, and you know what…I’m not buyin’ it!

I’m not buyin’ that I have to work myself into the ground to be happy, or to be worthy. I’m not buyin’ that the best way to measure my success is by the length of my to-do list and the intensity of my exhaustion. I’m not buyin’ the lie, and I hope you don’t either.

Because, here’s the truth: Life isn’t about getting shit done.

If I have the privilege of taking inventory of my life when my time is up, I’m not gonna look back and say to myself, “You know, Kels, you really should’ve gotten more laundry done. You should’ve sacrificed sleep to finish that project sooner, and spent less time snuggling on the couch with your dog.”

So I am taking back the word lazy.

I’m celebrating my lazy days…the days where I prioritize BEING over DOING. The days of conserving energy rather than expending it. The days when “nothing gets done.” Because these are the days that I indulge in the pleasure of being alive! I linger on the porch with my coffee, I stare into the eyes of my baby, I listen to an inspiring podcast while I soak up the sun. These are the days filled with moments of truly living!

To The Friend Of The Griever: What I’ve Learned About Holding Space When Your Loved One’s World Falls Apart

365 days ago, on July 15th 2017, the world lost a remarkable man, a gentle giant, my best friend’s husband: Justin Allis.

This past year has been full of heartache and devastation for my dear Stevie and has been blessed with joy and abundance for me. Navigating our friendship under these circumstance has not been easy, but truthfully, I have never experienced such genuine friendship.

Thanks to Stevie’s willingness to guide me, I have become a better friend. Here is what my warrior widow bestie has taught me about how to show up when shit hits the fan:

1. It’s okay to not know what to say, but say something anyway.

Watching the person you love experience unimaginable pain feels utterly hopeless. I wish there were the “right words” to say to lighten the burden of acute grief, but there are no such words.

I’ve learned that when I’m at a loss of what to say, I can say exactly that: “I don’t know what to say.”

I remind Stevie how much I love her, that I see her pain and I’m not going anywhere.

No matter how much I want to, I can’t fix it and neither can you. The truth is, we also can’t “make it worse,” so pick up the phone or send a message, but don’t stay silent!

2. Take Initiative

Grief is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Expecting someone who is grieving to have the energy and the mental clarity to ask for what they need is unrealistic. Take on the burden of decision making the best you can.

In the wake of Justin’s unexpected death, Stevie’s tribe flew in and started doing — I saw people step up to cook, clean, walk her dogs, care for her yard, and hold her close.

After a big loss, people often say “let me know if you need anything.” We want to give them space and don’t know what is truly helpful and what might be annoying but I’ve learned it’s better to take your best guess and do something than to sit idly by.

3. Stay Humble

I have no idea what I’m doing and Stevie knows that. I have said and done things that are unhelpful even though I have the best of intentions. Thankfully I have a friend who is courageous enough to tell me when I miss the mark.

Take direction. You are holding their hand, but they are drive the ship. Go where you’re called and don’t take it personally if you are corrected.

It’s not about you.

4. Give her permission to process however, whenever and for however long she needs.

Everyone grieves differently. What you might want if the tables were turned may not be what your friend needs.

Let go of expectations and make endless room for this new third wheel in your relationship: grief.

There is no timeline for healing and it is not linear. Your relationship is forever changed.

Privately grieve the loss of the friendship you once had. Use outside resources to process your own feelings about this new heavy presence and remember: no matter how uncomfortable you are, your friend is even more uncomfortable so bear your share with grace.

5. Invite her in, without expectation.

Life keeps on moving, even after the greatest loss. Weeks after Stevie had lost her husband and her rainbow baby, I announced I was pregnant. I was also engaged to be married on the 3 month anniversary of his passing.

Of course I wanted to Stevie to be a part of these big life moments, but only she could decide if and how she could participate.

I expected nothing. I chose to celebrate my blessings knowing that she may or may not be able to join me. Lucky for me, she chose to join me (cuz she’s effing awesome!).

We both made room — she for my joy and me for her grief. Our opposing realities can, and do, coexist.

Thank you Stevie, for being my forever soul mate sister, for showing me what love means, and for being an example of walking through tragedy with grace and grit. I love you!

Follow her inspirational journey on Instagram @stevieallis

My Yoga Birth Story Part II

The theme of my pregnancy and birth experience with Ginny was *Trust*

At my 30 week ultrasound, we received unsettling news: Ginny was measuring extremely small size and my placenta was potentially segmented. This meant that I would be going in for testing three times a week for the remainder of my pregnancy. It also meant that my delivery was too high risk for the home birth we had hoped for, so I would be delivering at the hospital. 

Just as I had trusted in the timing of my pregnancy, I trusted this new path.

In true Divine coincidence, the Midwife I had been seeing for prenatal care, and whom I had developed a strong bond with, had rights to deliver at Mission Hospital.

After weeks of testing and being prepared for the possibility of induction, Hubby and I were due for some serious rest. We decided to send our oldest off with Noni for two nights so that we could have a “staycation” Babymoon.

I knew I had been in early labor for a bit. I had lost my mucus plug, was having irregular contractions and was 1cm dilated and 90 percent effaced at 37 weeks.

On Tuesday, April 3rd, my love and I spent the entire day doing what we do best: shopping at Fashion Island, eating delicious food, and making strangers uncomfortable with our PDA. As we walked hand and hand, we smiled and savored the opportunity to nourish our friendship before our biggest transition to date.

On Wednesday, April 4th, we were relaxing at home when I realized I was bleeding. This is an unwelcome sight for any pregnant Mama, especially with all the concern about the state of Ginny’s wellbeing.

I chose to trust that I would be guided to the best course of action.

My best friend Stevie was planning on taking a road trip from Denver to Cali to be with me for Ginny’s birth, but I sensed she wouldn’t make it in time. I called her at 5pm and said “I think you need to book a flight.” She was able to snag a ticket for the last flight out of Denver at 8pm.

After hours of back and forth with my Midwife, we decided to throw our dinner in tupperware and head to the hospital for monitoring since my bleeding wasn’t letting up.

We arrived at the hospital around 9pm and I was hooked up for monitoring. I’ve never been in a hospital after hours — it felt like a ghost town. I was grateful for the privacy of our suite and the peace and quiet of the hall (with the exception of the moaning first time Mama next door).

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I was now 4cm dilated and 100% effaced. 

My Midwife, Allison, continued to review the print out from the monitor while we chatted and then lovingly added, “I think it’s time you stop eating your dinner.”

I knew what this meant: she was thinking C-section.

I breathed in — “It is well with my soul.”

It’s important to note here how much I trusted my Midwife. From day one, she had listened attentively, spoken candidly, and honored my values. For the duration of my prenatal care, Allison’s actions aligned with my belief that pregnancy and birth are natural processes and should be approached with confidence rather than fear. I knew that my best interest and the best interest of my baby were at the heart of her practice. Because of this, I was at ease in her care, even as it looked like the path ahead was bumpy.

Happily, Allison returned later to say that baby was looking great on the monitor and we were on track for a vaginal delivery.

Stevie joined Dan and I around 10pm. Me and my two best friends sat in the birth suite chatting, laughing and listening to Kings of Leon. My Doula, Natalie, arrived around 11pm after my water has just broken. I was given a mobile monitor that was taped to my belly so I could get up from the bed and freely move around as I labored. Now that I could eat a little something, Stevie got me an orange flavored popsicle from the lobby. I swung my hips as I raved that it was the most delicious popsicle I’d ever had!

The nurses coming in and out commented on the joy and lightness in the room. They seemed confused when I casually informed them I was having an extra big contraction with a big grin on my face. I couldn’t have been happier — my body was doing the work to bring my baby into my arms.

I remember sweetly caressing my own forearm and saying “I’m so grateful my body is doing such a good job. Thank you body!” 

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After a couple hours of joyfully dancing through active labor, I turned on my “Transition” playlist and found my position for this intense work leaning over the bed. This is how I would remain through this phase of labor, and where I would sink into a meditative state with the loving hands of my Doula on my low back and the hands of my sleepy husband in mine.

“…Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…when oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace…”

I sang my baby down. My movements were intuitive, soft and rhythmic. I was alone inside myself, relaxed in the knowing that I was fully supported by my team.

This space, Transition, is thoughtless and beyond time. The room was dim and sleepy and I knew my body needed some nourishment. Natalie gave me a small bag of trail mix and with eyes closed I said, “Yes, this is exactly what I needed.” 

My contractions were powerful and frequent, so I woke up my husband so he could accompany me to the bathroom. As a powerful pressure wave approached while I sat on the toilet, I looked up at my husband with a bit of shock and said, “I’m ready to push.”

I just knew it was what my body wanted next. There was no analyzing, no doubting, just a humble following of the very clear cues my body was giving me. My only job was to get out of the way so my body could do her job. I gladly surrendered, knowing she had the wisdom needed.

Dan assisted me as I wobbled from the bathroom to the bed while Stevie left the room to get Allison and Natalie who had both just briefly stepped out.

Without pause, I climbed onto the bed, braced my forearms on a stack on pillows and kneeled facing the wall. This moment will live in my memory forever — it was the one time I felt genuinely scared by the shear force of the sensation building inside me. I stared directly at the back of the bed, and said with conviction, “Dan I need you really bad right now.” He stood to my right with his hand securely on my back and said “I’m here my love.”

I felt the presence of Stevie to my left — the same presence that had stood by me since childhood. I was aware in that moment that the pain she carries from grief doesn’t have a finish line. My pain did. Her courage fueled me. I whispered aloud to myself, “I can do this. This is temporary.”

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The surge rose in me like a ferocious tsunami wave and my body pushed with a vigor I could not have impeded. 

I roared from the depths of my soul!

“Stop pushing and take a breath in” my calm confident Midwife coached.

Breath in.

“Now give me a little push.”

Breath out.

“Don’t push. Take another breath.”

Breath in.

“Another little push.”

Breath out…with baby!

Allison passed Ginny through my legs and I bowed to embrace my sweet baby, cheek to cheek.

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When I saw her face, I recognized her. We greeted each other like old friends. “Oh hey you! I’ve been waiting. I’m so glad you’re here.”

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Danny, Stevie, Allison and Natalie: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. We couldn’t have done this without you!

Bipolar: A Diagnosis Not An Identity

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. 

I believe wholeheartedly that it is important to keep the focus on mental *health* rather than be bogged down by discussions of mental illness. If we focus on pathology rather than solution, we stay stuck.

I also, however, wholeheartedly believe that when we share our stories of trials and tribulations, we can build bridges of connection through our shared humanity.

This is why I choose to speak candidly about my mental health journey.

I live with Type II Bipolar Disorder. I am unashamed to be associated with mental illness for one reason: my diagnosis does not define me.

Yes, it is true that I have a mental illness. It is also true that I have a full life complete with healthy relationships and profound peace, and I coach others on how to do the same. 

I first noticed signs of mental illness as a teen. My emotional outbursts and instability began to affect my relationships and ability to preform my responsibilities as a student and an employee. Looking back, I can now see that the signs began much earlier in childhood, but were interpreted as “immaturity.” 

I have experienced loss of relationships as a result of my behavior, and I have been held back in my professional pursuits because of my inability to regulate my mood and focus on my goals.

I am proud to say I have worked diligently on building a large tool box of coping mechanisms that have allowed me to navigate life with more grace. I have used traditional talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, journaling, community, Yoga, meditation, prayer, time in nature and self help books. In my opinion, more is better when it comes to coping strategies because there is no one tool that always works. The more options I have when experiencing a high or low, the better the odds are that I will have access to the one I need in that moment. For me personally, the most impactful tool has been my Yoga practice.

Gratefully, I have experienced very little stigma related to mental illness. What I have experienced is a struggle to be taken seriously by those closest to me when they believe I am “up” or “down” — sometimes I’m just experiencing normal human emotions totally unrelated to my mood disorder.

I feel free to share about my diagnosis because I recognize that it is not “who I am.” Just as being a mother, a daughter, a wife, a teacher etc. don’t define my worth or my identity, neither does the reality that I live with a unique biochemistry that challenges my ability to regulate my mood. Because I am comfortable owning this truth, answering questions and sharing honestly, I have found a lot more acceptance from the outside world.

There’s no shame in living with mental illness. Whether you can relate to my story and want to connect, or my experience is foreign to you and you are curious to know more, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m an open book because I want to do my part to end the stigma.

We all benefit when we allow ourselves and each other to be human and still worthy of love and belonging.

My Yoga Birth Story Part I

The story of Ginny’s fierce and serene birth begins before conception…

My husband Dan and I had been a family for four years already, although we weren’t yet married. We lovingly coparented our daughter Thea, although she is not biologically related to Dan. Over the years we discussed back and forth the idea of creating a child together and how that might impact our relationship and Thea’s life. There came a time where we decided to open our hearts to the possibility of expanding our family, knowing full well that conception is beyond our control. Without expectation, I consciously stopped refilling my birth control prescription and let go, knowing that we had already been blessed beyond measure to be parents of a healthy daughter.

Then, life was flipped upside down by one phone call. My dearest friend, my chosen sister that I have spent my life alongside, tragically and unexpectedly lost her sweet husband, Justin. She was pregnant with their rainbow baby that they had waited patiently for, and she was beside herself in agony. I flew out to be with her as she reeled from the million ways her life had changed. 

When I returned home, I made an appointment with my doctor to get back on birth control and put pregnancy on pause for the time being. Then I received another call: my sweet Stevie was losing her baby. Again, I rushed to be by her side and sat with her while she grieved like I had never seen before. 

It was that second trip that I realized I had missed my period. 

“This can’t be happening. That would just be cruel!” I thought to myself. 

Once back in Cali, I went to my doctor appointment, got my birth control, and went home. I thought it was strange that I wasn’t given a pregnancy test and wanted to be sure before I started back on my regimen, so alone in my bathroom I took a test. 

Pregnant.

I lost my breath. I wept.

“Oh my God! My Stevie!” The words flew out of my mouth.

You see, Stevie was there the first time I took a positive pregnancy nine years prior. I had “accidentally” been granted a gift that countless women pray for and agonize over month after month. I had watched Stevie walk a painful fertility journey, and knew how her soul longed to experience this joy with Justin. 

Now, once again, without struggle, I was blessed with a baby.

I was excited! This was a brand new experience. The first time I was pregnant, I was a teenager and it was “shameful.” The announcements I made were dreaded and met with judgement and concern. I needed to celebrate this new life for the miracle it is! I wanted to shout for joy, but I hesitated because I knew how painful this news would be to the one person who had walked beside me my whole life.

Instead of being swept away by confusion and fear, I chose to dive into faith — Shradha. I chose to trust the bizarre timing of this blessing and allow myself to be guided by my Higher Power — Isvara Pranidhana. I relaxed into my mantra “It is well with my soul.”

I knew what I had to do. I felt like I had a dagger hidden in my pocket as I picked up the phone. As soon as she answered I spit it out like ripping off a bandaid. There was no better way to do it. 

We sobbed. We said “I love you” and ended the brutality quickly.

The next few weeks were beyond hard. I deserved to celebrate this blessing and she deserved to grieve her losses. So that is just what we did. We loved each other through the awkwardness and gave each other plenty of space to have our feelings.

This is true friendship: to hold each other’s hand through thick and thin while honoring the other’s unique journey.

Thanks to our unconditional love, Stevie was present at my wedding on the three month anniversary of Justin’s passing. She was at my baby shower months later, and she agreed to be by my side when I welcomed baby Ginny into the world.

That was a great day….

How I Maintain Serenity When Things Don’t Go As Planned

I just returned home after an ultrasound and meeting with my midwife. At 34 weeks and 2 days, baby Ginny is measuring in the 5th percentile for abdominal size, and 12th percentile overall. My husband and I are both tall, so we would expect our baby to be on the higher side of average. Ginny’s size is alarming because it could indicate that she isn’t getting the proper nourishment she needs in utero. We first discovered her small size last week, and this week was no different.

I’m now on a regimen of twice weekly scans to diligently monitor her growth. I could be induced any day if we have reason to believe she’s not thriving based on unsafe measurements in growth, blood flow or fluid levels.

This isn’t the news any mama wants to hear. This means that I am no longer a candidate for the home birth I’d envisioned. It’s scary to think that my baby could be in danger, and of course my first instinct is to blame myself. I immediately thought “I’m not doing a good job taking care of my baby.” I’m wrestling with myself right now. I’m upset that I’ve been indulging in sugar and paying little attention to my protein intake. I’ve prioritized work over self care more often than I want to admit. I’ve allowed the fear of financial insecurity during maternity leave to propel me into overdrive, and that stops now.

Of course my midwife reassured me that there is no fault here, yet I can provide Ginny with the best odds by giving her the best nutrition possible.

It doesn’t serve me, or Ginny, to remain in a mindset of blame and fear. Ginny is the size that she is. I cannot undo the way I’ve been feeding myself up to this point. When I surrender to this truth, I can focus on where I do have some power: over my choices moving forward.

My sweet husband is helping rid the house of my Achilles heel: sweets! The Costco box of rice crispy treats, the Girl Scout cookie stash and the cupcakes are being replaced with nuts and hummus. I have an alarm on my phone to remind me to eat every two hours, and I’m using an app to track my nourishment throughout the day. These things are within my ability to control, and this is where I will focus my energy.

We are scared, and that’s okay. My Yoga practice has taught me how to hold two opposing things at the same time. I can rest assured that I have the tools to respond to whatever comes of this challenge, and still acknowledge that it’s super scary. I can use this experience as an opportunity to surrender to that which is beyond my control, and practice my intention for 2018: Faith

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

With this shift in focus, I will be putting work on the back burner. My one priority will be nourishing myself and Ginny and preparing for her arrival. I absolutely love this online community, and am so grateful to know that my decision to temporarily step away will be fully supported. Thank you <3

Upgrade Your Goal Setting Strategy With These Two Mental Shifts

Before we dive into the two mental shifts for joyful goal setting, let me say that I am genuinely excited to connect with you. It may sound trite, but because you are reading this, I know that you have a desire to create positive change through the practice of Yoga. Nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by others that are on this same path!

As we learn from our Yoga practice, our mind has the power to greatly influence our experiences, and goal setting is no exception. It’s no surprise, then, that our mind can either be our greatest asset in setting strategic goals, or it can be our greatest hindrance. If you experience roadblocks when pursuing goals, try on these two attitudes and see what happens!

Begin with love

We can either approach goals from a place of fear or love, and respectively, can either create more joy or more frustration.

When we approach goals from a place of fear, we fall into a trap of using goal setting as another opportunity to measure our worth externally. The underlying fear is that we are not good enough as we are; that we need to “fix” some broken part of ourselves.

The truth is, your worth does not fluctuate whether or not you achieve a goal.

According to the Yoga Sutras, there is a part of all of us that is unchanging. Call it Spirit, Soul, Highest Self, there is a part of you that is pure, radiant and lovable…always. This is Purusha.

When you remember that Purusha is who you really are, you can work to create positive change that uplifts your life, while simultaneously embracing yourself with unconditional love and acceptance. From this loving place, you know with certainty that you are worthy regardless of whether or not you execute an intended goal.

Focus on action vs outcome

Yoga is about being the hero of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that we can dictate how events unfold. We learn through the tools of the practice to cultivate Viveka, discernment, so we can decipher between what we can and cannot control.

Events + Response = Outcome

In the above formula, we cannot control the events of our lives and we cannot control the outcome, but we still have jurisdiction over one key element: our response! You can influence the outcome by changing your response, that’s where your power lies.

When creating a goal, choose to focus on this piece of the puzzle. Setting a goal to lose 10 pounds is an outcome-oriented goal. If you want to lose 10 pounds, what actions do you have full control over that would lead to this outcome? An action-oriented goal would be to exercise for 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. This approach puts the power in your hands: fulfill your commitment to the action, and celebrate your success! The pounds either come off, or they don’t, but you successfully achieved your goal.

Combining your focus on action with being grounded in self love, will bring more levity to your journey of transformation. Try it on and let me know how it goes!

 

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