The Urban Yoga Den

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The Suicide Blog (Or, How To Keep Living, When You Feel Like Dying) May 15, 2019

May 8th, 2019
Caution: this blog includes detailed description of a suicide attempt.

If you met me today, you wouldn’t guess that I tried to kill myself one year ago. You would see me teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, playing percussion at concerts, loving my Metro commutes, inhaling deeply under flowering trees. You would see my near constant smile and note my “spark of life,” my “inner light” and “glowing beauty.” You would ask about the “.02%” tattoo on my forearm and overlook the telling scar on that same wrist. You would listen to my story and call me “resilient.”MeMay2019

To most people, “resilient” looks like fighting through and bouncing back. To me, resilience requires growth and change. I ask you: if I’m so resilient, why did I end up in a tub of blood, trying to chop my damn hand off with too-dull blades last year? Most importantly: what’s happened since then to finally make me believe that — YES — I am resilient?

*  *  *

On May 8th, 2018, I attempted suicide. Possessed by a PTSD flashback, I believed to the core of my being that I was being threatened to the point of great danger; that I would never escape the futility of mental illness; that I would never stop hurting my loved ones during my hostile episodes; that I would never be well enough to hold a sustaining job; that I would never have what I need to live a stable life. After a huge argument with my housemates, during which I cursed worse than a sailor, threw a coffee cup across the room, and accused them of horrible actions, I heard my landlord say the fated words: “You need to find another place to live.”

My mental state was already beyond my control. But at that moment, it was if the devil himself reached into the crown of my skull and sucked out every last trace of reality, positivity, and hope that may have still existed. Darkened beyond reach, I robotically headed to the kitchen, grabbed two sharp knives, wrote a goodbye note in my journal, barricaded myself in the bathroom, drew a warm bath, and settled in. With pure determination and resolve, I cut my wrist as deeply as the knife would go. Not sharp enough. I tried the other knife and the blood started flowing. I kept cutting. But the blood kept stopping. I dismantled a Gillette razor blade and cut more. When it stopped bleeding again, I banged my wrist on the side of the tub until it bled again. And then stopped again. This ritual of cutting/banging/bleeding/cutting/banging/bleeding continued until the tub filled with blackened blood. At times, I passed out. At times, I was fully lucid. Overall, I was pissed off. This — my 3rd suicide attempt in my adult life — would fail.

When the pain of the cuts became worse than I could bear, I stopped trying. My wrist was swollen and bruised; the bathroom looked like a slasher movie. Suicide was supposed to relieve me of pain, not drag me through more. I called two friends and my psychiatrist, and headed to the Georgetown University psych ward for stitches and 2.5 weeks of refuge. They removed the strings from my hooded sweatshirts, took away my toiletries, and checked for sharp objects.WristCollage

On May 25th, 2018, I emerged from the hospital, skeptical but willing to try and stay alive.

One month after my failed suicide attempt, chef Anthony Bourdain succeeded in his. Until his death, I’d not mentioned my own attempt on social media. Although typically transparent about all aspects of my life, I wasn’t sure how to “go public” with this particular event. I’d always been the writer, teacher, and friend who could guide folks away from suicide by sharing how I’d sidestepped it for nearly 30 years, after my last attempt in 1990. Since that attempt, yoga, therapy, and addiction recovery gave me the tools I needed to process past darkness and ideation — until the tools stopped working after years of misdiagnosis and faulty treatment.

So, how was I going to tell folks that my own advice no longer worked for me? That, despite my best efforts, life’s pain got the best of me? I was ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid to be rigorously honest.

Until Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. Well, no — it was the public’s reactions to Bourdain’s suicide that pushed me to talk about mine.  It all started with a June 8, 2018 mini-blog on Facebook, in response to folks’ nonstop posting about “how to recognize when someone is suicidal” and “how to show your depressed friends that you love and care about them and therefore keep them from dying” and the like. I just could not stand the generalizations and misconceptions. Thoughts, acts, and ideas around suicide are unique to each person. I felt compelled to share mine; and throughout the following months, I continued with periodic check-ins about mental health.

I’d stopped blogging on WordPress — not on purpose, but for convenience. Facebook flows are easier to post. But now, with the one-year anniversary of my suicide attempt, I want to compile related posts here. My aim is to continue blogging here, and, to explore other platforms. In fact, there just might be a memoir and podcast in our future…

*   *  *

Below is a collection of Facebook writings from May 8th, 2018, through the 1-year anniversary of my attempt. I always say: I write transparently to share my experience, strength, and hope, in service to those that might relate, and those that might find something useful. Also, this specific compilation of writings will, hopefully, serve to portray a one-year journey away from a desire to die and toward the triumph of living. There were certainly ups and downs; but most importantly, there were great turning points where my direction shifted firmly away from spiraling downward, to onward-and-upward.

What’s not included in this collection of writings are the posts between, where I was either flowing with joy, trudging through pain, or just plain living. Over the past year, I guided my 2nd and 3rd Yoga Teacher Trainings and taught a bunch of beautiful classes; I watched my father fall, move to a nursing home, and die; my sisters and I reunited, re-divided, and reunited again; one of my dearest friends died; I taught my 13th and final year of my treasured music and yoga summer camp; I started offering yoga classes for the DC Metropolitan Police Department; I moved from downtown DC to the MD suburbs; I watched my beloved hometown protest against hateful visitors; baseball games and nature continued to be a refuge of fun and presence; my work life changed from stable to unstable to stable again; and my dreams and explorations of working with kids as a counselor continued to bloom.

Basically, the past year of life has been exactly that — life. And gratefully, I am alive to tell about it.

*   *  *

May we all find the courage to share openly. May the world accept our health conditions as worthy of sharing. May mental health topics become natural, open conversations for all. Because it is this unbridled connection and rigorous honesty that will make us want to live. And, MAY WE ALL BE BLESSED WITH RESILIENCE.

To this day, I haven’t replaced my hoodie strings. Perhaps I will, now…

Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly

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Here begins a collection of Facebook posts since May 8th, 2018

8 June, 2018
What does a suicidal person look like?
Not everyone who is suicidal looks numb and dissociated. Not all depressed people appear down. Some look resilient, even inspiring. Some look hostile. Some are famous, and you can watch them on TV; some are sitting next to you on the bus, smiling joyfully at a silly child. MeMay2018
On May 8th, I attempted to kill myself. I looked angry, violent and out of control.
These hostile episodes had been increasing in intensity and frequency for years – in 2014, they were misdiagnosed as panic attacks, related to PTSD. Always willing to do inner work and utilize healing resources, I started seeking help. Chakra work, workshops, writing, yoga, meditation, retreats, etc. Periodic therapy but not long term. Pops-in to the doctor for refills of my low dose meds.
I rarely looked depressed to people. I looked positive and loving. Or, I looked like an angry dog, backed into a corner. I lost friends and jobs. I also found friends who could navigate mental illness and focus on the love. However, nobody – not my friends, not my doctors, not me – recognized how sick I was.
After the failed attempt to kill myself last month, the doctors in the psychiatric hospital listened to my stories from recent years and connected the dots. I now understand: my episodes are not panic attacks. They are PTSD flashbacks – dissociated periods of memorized trauma. Since a rough childhood, I’d experienced suicidal ideation. And my last actual attempt was 28 years ago. So for a very long time, I did not have the right diagnosis, support or medication.
Now, I have new meds, new doctors, new routines. A changing Holly in the same old externals. But I’ve turned over a new leaf.
I want you to know: there is nothing anyone could have done to stop me from trying to kill myself. There was nobody to blame. There was, simply, a solid belief that there was no way out of a life that felt cemented with immense pain, triggers, loss and futility…
even while deeply loving the beauty of life itself.
With a mental illness that locks me into false beliefs based on true memories, I can’t win at times. And you can’t help at times.
Thankfully, on May 8th, after 4 earnest hours of self-harm, I was feeling more physical pain than I could bear…and still not dead. I made a call. I went to the hospital. I learned a lot. I emerged.
For some in my life, no explanation will repair the damage done during these bouts of anger and hostility. From others, I’m receiving immense love, mercy and compassion. It’s a tender, raw and emotional time. At times I feel bewildered. At times I feel motivated and clear. I am profoundly grateful for those who are in this with me. You may not have been able to stop me on May 8th, but your unconditional love lifts me farther and farther from it.
Onward and upward.
OM Shanti.

25 June, 2018
All the feels…
I haven’t really shared about the process of recovering from my May 8th suicide attempt. Particularly since being blindsided by and occupied with my dad’s accident. [Mid-June, my father had a bad fall and went into hospice care.]
In general, each new step of life seems surreal. As if I’ve never lived through a day before now. Every decision, activity, relationship and element of my world is being reevaluated and feels more precious than ever.
Yesterday was the 1st day where I felt happy to be alive – like my old self: purely present and seeing beauty everywhere. But today, I was tired and weepy.
My higher power seems out of reach. My doctors provide positive motivation and clarity. My friends are sharing more closeness, assurance and love than ever. And solitude is sparse.
Tonight, I’m walking home from a recovery meeting under a hazy waxing moon. And feeling gratitude, uncertainty, melancholy, exhaustion, love…
Much love and thanks to you.

27 June, 2018
Nothing to hide, nothing to prove…
I share transparently for a number of reasons: to diminish my own shame about mental illness; to share and seek solutions and resources; and to feel supported. I know there are folks out there, suffering in silence. And I’ve learned – to be silent is to suffer more.
A “cry for help” is not a demand for pity. It is, indeed, a request for help. Without it, we are alone.
Thank you for not leaving me alone! In the month since leaving the hospital after my suicide attempt, you have reached out generously. I am deeply grateful.
Recovering from this attempt is a strange journey. To be frank, I didn’t imagine being here to deal with the aftermath! Duh!
As you might imagine, there are ups and downs. Well, guess what – there were ups and downs before this, too! The difference now? I have a correct diagnosis for my brand of PTSD; and I have a team of resources that I MUST (and am lucky to) call upon. This includes a psychiatrist and his physician’s assistant; a Dialectical Behavioral Therapist with an ass-kicking workbook; a talk therapist for processing the feels; a beautifully compassionate primary care doctor who’s addressing long-neglected checkups. I’m on a high-ish dose of an SSRI medication, which is weird for this natural health gal – yet necessary for the time being. I practice mindfulness with teachers that are experienced and wise. I follow dietary and sleep recommendations. (OK, OK, I’m trying.) Basically, I take direction from professionals who guide me with expertise.
And, I stay connected to friends that know how to – or, want to learn to – be in relationship with the Holly who is striving to heal from her own death wish due to mental illness. It’s been heartbreaking to discover that not everyone is up for the task…but, my heart is healing as I focus on the essence of love in all beings – whether or not they are able to walk beside me.
Before this attempt, I earnestly believed that I was doing all the right things to address my PTSD. And, I sense that most folks around me were accustomed to my strength and resilience. Well, let me tell you: Memorized Trauma Experiences (aka PTSD Flashbacks) kicked my self-sufficient ass to the ground so many times in the past 4 years, I found myself in a bewildering abyss.
Now, I’ve surrendered to the fact that it can’t be me alone (with all the best intentions) making the effort.
A “cry for help” is exactly that. And I am thankful for all of the help I am receiving.
Although I am eager to give back and be of service…I (sheepishly) acknowledge that my priority right now is to accept help. Or die.
Nothing to hide, nothing to prove.
Sending so much love and thanks…

1 July, 2018
Hello, July.
Birthday month, thick with teaching summer camp, enjoying Folklife Festival, guiding lots of yoga classes and more. A friend just reminded me that this month (for him) is usually pivotal. For me, too.
I’ve felt myself notably awakening from the post-hospitalization haze.
My heart seeks more. In a healthy way.
How does July look for you?


13 July, 2018
!Sigue, adelante!
Made it through the 1st 3-week summer camp session, and set the room back up for the next! The kids’ final performances in all of the camp areas were awesome. Percussion, dance, Orff orchestra, flute, violin, guitar, cello, piano and group songs. And, wow, the team of teachers who guided them! I’m fortunate to teach alongside such amazing educators…
…such as flute instructor Angela Blueskies, whose sold-out Sound Healing session I just emerged from at the beautiful Sky House Yoga. I’m feeling washed clean of echoing stairwells, full of excited (aka loud) kids – and full of serenity.
Grateful for all of these experiences.
I had only one major emotional hiccup in the last three weeks, and it was met with caring responses from fellow musicians, camp staff, friends and healers. Tonight, after rising from healing waves of sound vibration, Angela looked me in the eyes (and heart) and said: “I’m glad you’re here. And. I’m glad you’re HERE.”
Right now, I’m glad I’m HERE, too.
Love love love.

23 July, 2018
My brain feels like nails on a chalkboard.
How is your brain today?

28 July, 2018
Good evening, 53…
Y’know, I didn’t think I’d be here for this day. But, here I am! What an organically sweet day it’s been so far. No big deals, just simple pleasures. The company of friends, great food, recovery meetings, sunshine, bus rides, therapy (yup, even on my birthday), meditation, inhales, exhales, hugs, kisses, smiles.
Feeling humbled, grateful, sorry, sleepy, skeptical, hopeful, full…and…loved.
(Yeah, I know…)
Thank you for loving me.

Onward into the 54th revolution around the sun.
After today’s very engaging celebration of 53, I’m looking forward to some solitude tomorrow – to reflect, to take stock.
So much love to you all.

30 July, 2018
My insides are screaming to say Fuck You to the people who treat me like an unwanted problem…who have harmed me…who have been cruel to me…who have betrayed me…
Literally. To find them and face them and tell them to fuck off.
This is not a safe place for a recovering alcoholic with PTSD to dwell.
FUCK YOU ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____.

That’s a good start.
Join me!

Love love love.
(Yep, that’s your yoga teacher talking!)

31 July, 2018
Phew. Last night’s half-mad/half-silly F-bomb rant took a toll on me. I woke up today with a powerful emotional hangover and horribly sore body. I called in sick to summer camp because I couldn’t stand up without serious wobbling. And I’ve spent all day sleeping heavily.
Raw transparency sometimes takes a toll.
And there are consequences – like, missing the pay for a day of work, and, having the F-word plastered all over my FB timeline. Sadly, at this point in my fresh journey of self-discovery, that rawness is all I have at times like last night, when an interaction triggers a PTSD flashback.
My anger does not always own me. You and I both know that I am a peaceful and healthy person.
My greatest trigger of anger? PTSD itself. I fucking hate my illness. It has wrecked my life so many times – most recently, driving me into a bathtub with a blade.
Since that experience – and all that surrounded it – it’s so hard to feel well and whole. Relationships, jobs, home life are on the rocks. It’s hard to not feel an internal pressure to heal, heal, heal (damnit, HEAL!) in order to change everything. And the external pressures are very real – I must move out of my house; and therefore, I must find more lucrative work. I must find true support; and therefore, I must discern which relationships are unhealthy.
This morning’s paralyzing exhaustion was the culmination of these pressures combined with an enormously stressful few months. All of the resources I share and tools I teach via my yoga offerings are not enough to keep me healthy these days – and this is truly humbling. I must place myself in the hands of a higher power that I’m blind to…which is impossible. I must break my pattern of breaking down…which feels impossible. Still, the only thing I’m trained to do is keep trudging forward.
Because, when I give up, I end up in deeper shit rather than released from it.
I guess it’s time to learn to give IN.
Love love love.
OM Shanti.

Hey, y’all.
Had a crucial conversation with my doctor. I believe relief is in sight.
I see some FB messages in the queue…thank you. I don’t have messenger on my phone and am rarely on a computer. Please feel free to email me at the address in my FB profile, or, call or text if you have my number.
Love and thanks to all.

3 August, 2018
My lord, I don’t think I’ve been this happy about a day of the week since I had a corporate job.
Today is the last day of summer camp! Y’all know how much joy this annual 6-week gig brings me. This year, it also brought intolerable exhaustion. And super-weird dreams! (Well, maybe those are from the mental illness and medication).
I am looking forward to some “me” time. Pup-sitting all weekend; sleeping in tomorrow; massage Sunday. Cartoons! NPR! Non-rushed Hatha, pranayama and meditation practice. Therapy! (Of course.) Ooooh, and maybe a Restorative & Reiki class at Embrace on Sundayyy…
Infinite options for restoration! Grateful.
What will YOU do to take care of yourself this weekend?
Love love love.
OM Shanti.

5 August, 2018
Joy will return…
There’s nothing like a 90-minute deep tissue massage to burst buried veins of self-love and -compassion. The heart, ladies and gentlemen, has softened. I can see the light.

Last night a friend and I were reminiscing over Spotify selections from the 90s. The trajectory went something like this: ELO, Paul McCartney, Jellyfish, The Waterboys, World Party. Wait. Stop there. World Party. Let’s listen. And there, in my memory, was 1991 – the year after my 1990 suicide attempt in New Orleans (which was the last attempt before this May). From New Orleans, I accepted my sister’s invitation to move to Florida; and I started fighting my way up from a dark abyss. A deep well of addiction and untreated trauma and depression and promiscuity and you-name-it. Music started to pull me up, pull me out, lift me up. I sold my whole CD collection except 30 choices – only positive, spiritual music and great storytellers. Santana/McLaughlin “Love Devotion Surrender;” Coltrane “A Love Supreme;” Pharaoh Sanders “Karma;” The Waterboys “A Pagan Place;” Van Morrison “Astral Weeks;” Hothouse Flowers “People; “World Party “Goodbye Jumbo.” And more.
Last night, I recalled that in 1991, after moving from Florida to Austin, I saw World Party in-concert. I cried sobs of awe through the whole thing. I was fighting hard! I wanted to rise up. I believed I could.

I want to fight for that joy again.
It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with anger, sadness, remorse and grief since my May suicide attempt. I’ve been running from the intensity of and after it; to the shock and urgency of my father’s accident; to the tiring demands of summer camp. Well, this weekend, I’ve been breathing, y’all. Catching up on sleep and smiles.
Last night, listening to “Goodbye Jumbo,” I was singing and dancing with a surrender and happiness that I have not felt in a very long time. And today, after teaching a beautiful morning yoga class, then enjoying a nourishing massage, my mind shifted.
And at the end of the massage, I sat up crying and said, “I believe joy will return.”
I think I’ll just leave that right there.
OM Shanti.

7 August, 2018
Well, sh**…
Nothing like starting my Social Media perusing by seeing a public suicide note posted by someone dear to me. Thankfully, the police caught him before he used the gun.
The urge to die does not always come from the same place for every sufferer. But in this case, I grasp that he and I both get caught in the grip of: the pain of causing harm to others; the feeling that mental illness is ruining our lives; the overwhelming belief that, although life is rich with beauty and joy and passion, our lives will often hurt way more than we can stand.
The fear that we will never change, that health is out of reach, that growth is impossible.

Well, now. The post-suicide attempt recovery continues – for me, and so many others.
And, wow…today marks 3 months since my attempt, which means I’m allowed back on the Georgetown University psych ward – to bring recovery meetings and be of service.
Gonna make that call…
(Hoping to see my dear one when I travel south for a family visit this month.)
Love love love.

22 August, 2018
“Hi! Nice to meet you! I can be a raging lunatic…”
I came across the attached article (“How to Tell a New Partner You Have a Mental Illness”) while FB surfing. It made me realize how emotionally distant I’ve stayed from romances and friendships – long before, and, most certainly since my May suicide attempt.
For years, my severe PTSD episodes have wreaked havoc on most of my relationships. The main problem? My illness was undiagnosed, the symptoms were untreated, and therefore, I appeared to have intentional fits of rage.
But if anyone truly knows me, they know that rage is far from my intentions.
The most angering part of life is my illness itself, which – when confronted with certain triggers – sucks every ounce of reality, sanity, reason, balance, peace and beauty out of my being, and replaces it with wildly frightened perceptions and monstrous reactions.
So tell me – if I were to reveal this to you on a first date, would you stick around?
Woot, woot! Sounds like fun! Not.

This article encourages transparency of this order. It tells stories of relationships blooming out of full disclosure. But, it leaves me wondering about the health of the resulting relationships! Why would anyone stick around, knowing the potential for being on the receiving end of a PTSD-triggered attack? Why would anyone want to learn how to shape the way they love, according to a mentally-ill person’s needs? To me, that sounds unhealthy.
Or perhaps, that’s just my shitty experience talking.

For years before my recent diagnosis of “memorized trauma experience” (aka PTSD flashbacks), people abandoned ship after experiencing my episodes. Way back in childhood, I was ridiculed by kids who witnessed my uncontrollable crying or anger. Way later, around 2010, I tried to describe to a hurt friend how possessed my brain felt during these situations. Once, I even pleaded, “I’m mentally ill, I can’t control this,” based only on intuition. But the damage was done. Friendships were dropping like flies.
I dug deeply into therapies, resources and remedies for my destructive patterns. However, the patterns only worsened after 2014, when family troubles struck the nerve of childhood trauma, rocketing me into an even denser state of emotional imbalance. I was having “panic attacks” (a tragic misdiagnosis) at jobs, home – even the yoga studios where I worked. Loss after loss, I trudged forward, trying to change, but staying the same. The past four years have been an emotional hell – which I diminished and denied…until this spring, when household conflicts mirroring painful family dynamics landed me in a bathtub full of blood – and then a team of psych-ward professionals helped me understand my disease.
Great 1st-date conversation, eh?

Is it possible that, as described in this article, full disclosure of my mental illness to new friends or dates could lead to healthy intimacy? Because recently, even after learning about the reality of my PTSD flashbacks (episodes where I was triggered into a state of deep fear, which planted a false perception of threat, leading to hostile behavior), some folks who had already distanced me due to my “bad behavior” jumped ship.
I have been asked to move out of my group house because of triggered outbursts prior to my suicide attempt. And after getting out of the hospital, an associate even told me that my past behaviors warranted their abandonment of me surrounding that crisis.
So, no wonder I doubt the positivity of this article! I currently exist within a twisted blend of protecting myself, defending myself, protecting others, and projecting loss.

The silver lining? I now understand that fear has been the criteria for most of my life decisions – and that criteria must change. Still, even though my illness is now properly diagnosed and treated, my insides will not change overnight. There is major internal and external restructure ahead. At this moment, for the sake of forging a healthier journey, I am seeking a new home, new work, new connections. Simultaneously, I’m working with a team of health experts to grow toward healthier choices.
It’s a lot.
In fact, it’s so much that I can’t even imagine founding new relationships. So, I guess I can revisit this article later?

I’m curious – what are your thoughts about and experiences with this article’s proposal? I still wonder if its success stories are actually textbook examples of codependency… Just kidding. Not.
OM Shanti. Peace. Please.

25 August, 2018
I am grateful for folks who share transparently on Social Media. Their commitment to staying rigorously honest (primarily with themselves) about their inner work nudges me to reflect deeply.
This week, I read two posts in particular that helped me glean self-kindness, -compassion, and -congratulation from my typically foggy bog of “when the hell will my sick brain be well?”
Right now, for example, after reading, reflecting on, and then responding to recent posts, I am CELEBRATING my WILLINGNESS and DEDICATION to: face my mental illness; accept the related challenges as opportunities for growth; address my condition with the support of awesome healers; peel away layers of habitual dysfunction; communicate my needs; stay honest when I’m feeling “off;” be accountable and make amends for unhealthy behaviors; and, when loss is a result of my errors, breath my way through disappointment, anger, pain, fear…then trudge my way back to this celebration.
As one friend said, “Knowing is growth.” And it’s true – without plainly acknowledging my condition – and the need for change – I can’t grow. And as I’ve learned the hard way – if I’m not growing, I’m dying. So to speak.
Thank you, friends, for your openness. Whether it’s mental illness or simply unhealthy patterns, we are allies in our conditions…and more importantly…as we commit to honesty, willingness and dedication, we are allies in our growth.
Let’s do this!
Ommmm…Shanti Shanti Shanti.

26 August, 2018
This is awesome!
Hip Hop worship music is waking up my soul on this stunningly beautiful Sunday! My hands are raised and my body is grooving!
You might be wondering, “Huh? Holly’s listening to Xian music?” Heck yes. Y’know, I’ve thrown my arms up to Krishna at Kirtan concerts; I’ve bowed to the Earth at Native American ceremonies; I’ve led the family Passover seder; I’ve sobbed with awe at Al Green’s Church of the Gospel. Anywhere that folks are honoring spirit, soul, higher power…particularly as an avenue for rising up from an abyss of troubles…I’ve either been or want to be there.
These days, I’m not sure what or whom my higher power is. The “g” word feels foreign to me. Three months ago, praying to die, I believed that “god” supported that ending. The end of pain, the end of illness, the end of futility. Since landing alive and back on earth, I’ve been spiritually lost. And it’s not the first time. But every time, something eventually picks me up.
So, when I came across this Spotify playlist, clicked that 1st track, and heard the uplifting lyrics and fat beats, I began to believe that faith can also bring an end to pain, illness and futility. It can free me, as KB raps about here, in “No Chains.”
My question is – how does Jesus feel about my booty grinding to his praise? Seriously. Because I cannot stay still – could anyone?
Love love love.

6 September, 2018
“There is a goodness in the air tonight.”
This thought jumped into my brain just now, after enough positive, caring, loving encounters to restore my faith in the value of living.
A doctor once told me that, for me, human connection is more powerful medicine than any pill. (Yes, I’m still taking my pills.) And, after a day like today – to which many of you contributed – I got shivers through my entire body when the above phrase ran through my mind.
Powerful medicine, indeed.
Thank you. I love you. Goodnight.

7 September, 2018
Mindfulness in the MPD…
In July, Embrace Yoga DC partnered with the Washington Metropolitan Police Dept. for “Yoga With A Cop.” This event was meant to bring together police and community for a simple yoga practice.
Seven MPD representatives from the Special Liaison Unit and 3rd District (Embrace’s neighborhood) showed up – including one woman who came directly from her bicycle shift in uniform, and, four men who practice yoga regularly (two of whom have come to Embrace classes).
Two community members added to the mix.
This afternoon, I return to the 3rd District station to launch weekly classes for our officers – a program we piloted in June. The bicycle officer who practiced in uniform has become our biggest advocate! And, contacts in the Internal Affairs and Homicide Units have expressed serious interest. It helps that one of my MPD friends is a lieutenant, an avid yogi and meditator, and, has PTSD.

Many yoga teachers are pursuing training in Trauma-Informed Yoga. My training has been an organic blend of classical Hatha Yoga YTT, personal practice, and, dedication to applying the practice to my own PTSD experiences.
The 200-hour Integral Yoga YTT I took in 2008 included: encouragement to wear conservative, plain yoga clothes; a standard of using verbal cues only; foundational Pranayama, meditation and Yoga Nidra training; and, practical study of the Yoga Sutras as a design for living. My Trauma-Informed teaching style is strengthened by my genuine appreciation for, dedication to and practice of these very same elements of yoga – “on the mat,” in everyday life, and, as part of my PTSD treatment.
But most importantly, to teach Trauma-Informed Yoga…
I must fundamentally believe in EVERY HUMAN BEING’S innate goodness, desire to grow and ability to transform. Because I not only visit venues where people have the same mental illness as me…I must also be willing to walk into venues and share yoga with folks who may have committed the same harms that caused my PTSD: rape, assault, sexism, anti-semitism, bullying, betrayal, abuse… And I cannot do that without doing my own trauma healing. In order to earnestly and effectively be of service, I must walk the walk, and invite everyone to walk with me.

Back in July, the MPD reps who attended “Yoga With A Cop” chose to be there. They were there because they wanted it – not because they needed it, nor because they were mandated to do it. These willing human beings are curious about or already devoted to mindfulness. And I am honored and eager to share the practices with them.
OM Shanti.

9 September, 2018
L’Shana Tovah.
A sweet treat to spark a sweet New Year – 5779. And, of course, to launch 10 days of reflection about and atonement for the shit that went down in year # 5778…
I am awe-filled.
Love to you!

16 September, 2018
Full Circle…
I’ve been snapping photos of this tree in East Nashville’s Shelby Bottoms Park for exactly 5 years.

The photos on the right (crispy fall leaves and bare winter bones) were taken after I moved to Nashville, Labor Day weekend, 2013. I moved to be closer to my aging father, who needed assistance. That weekend was the beginning of the High Holy Days…
If you’ve read my mini-blogs for a while, you know that this “move” was horrible! Family conflict, debilitating poverty, dark depression – even with my addiction recovery intact, I hit a damaging bottom. I lasted 7 months in Nashville – and was able to assist my dad notably – then crawled my way back to my hometown of DC.
And then – even through I’d returned to my support community – I would start to suffer from what I now understand as PTSD Flashbacks, which went undiagnosed and untreated for years.

The shot on the left (puffy clouds) was taken on my recent TN trip, during Labor Day weekend. I traveled to visit my beloved father, who – after an accident this past June – was moved from his house in Nashville to a nursing home in Columbia. A bittersweet trip, it gave me the opportunity to see Dad in his current state of advanced dementia; it also allowed me to return to my favorite park, whose nature feeds me immensely.
Something about being out of DC – taking the road trip, staying in a wonderful friend’s home, attending recovery meetings with my treasured East Nashville friends, being in Shelby Park – melted me into a state of compassion that I’ve not felt for a very long time.
Compassion for myself, y’all.
This past May, resulting from these past years of undiagnosed mental illness, I tried to kill myself. Now, since this liberating trip to TN, I thankfully shifted from self-blame and -loathing to pure acceptance and love. There’s definitely more to this breakthrough – the progress has continued to bloom since my trip home to DC. Clarity, strength, stability is returning.
Shortly after returning from TN, the Jewish High Holy Days began.

For me, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a beautiful time of renewal, prayer, amends and devotion. I am in love, I am in love, I am in love. With my sweet, sacred Self.
After months of doubting that anything would lift me out of my mental illness to reach wellness and health, I have found faith that this new journey of treatment will bring healing.
I feel free.
Wishing you all a Fall season of breakthroughs and freedom. Love love love.

16 September, 2018
Two poignant encounters today…
Early afternoon, during a break from my “office hours” at Embrace, I saw a man who was in the Georgetown University psych ward with me back in May. He was across the street; and at first, I hesitated to say hello.
At the hospital, day after day, his mental state remained unstable. He’d been found by the Potomac River. Apparently, he’d jumped in; and his face was cut and swollen with wounds.
His mood swings were abrupt. In between, though, he liked to play the piano and sing songs for us. He was immensely artistic, charismatic – and unpredictable. Sweet – and downright nasty.
But today, after my initial balk, I beelined across the street. We hugged immediately, and reminisced about our circle of pals from GU. We were a tight crew, aged 18-and-up, from all walks of life, looking out for one another.
I saw the scars from his May wounds – and noticed some more. He said he hopes to stay out of trouble, and that the only thing that might jeopardize that, is if he “grabs some girl’s ass.” (Sweet – and nasty.)
He asked if he could sing me a song. I answered, “No thank you.” We shared another big hug, and moved on.

Walking home from Columbia Heights tonight, I passed the crowd of young men who like to relax in the park near my old neighborhood. When I lived there, I would pass by on my way to and from the corner market; on my way home, one of the guys and I would playfully chat and trade snacks. He would step away from the group, because they often smoked pot, and he knew about my addiction recovery.
Passing by tonight, we saw each other for the 1st time since I moved away. It was a gleeful reunion, even without the snacks! We hugged and caught up and wished each other well.

I share these experiences to illustrate the joy of connection. Community runs deep and wide, and is defined by my openness to share life and spirit with folks around me…to embrace the hearts of fellow humans.
I could tell hundreds of stories about encounters like these. And I encourage you to shape your own.

17 September, 2018
Will the circle be unbroken?
Yesterday, I posted about coming full circle. It’s felt empowering to have some good days in a row.
Today, however…sh#*. That nice, full circle? Broken.
In therapy just now, I hit another emotional bottom. The doc says that healing happens in cycles. She’s trying to encourage me, I know. But I am doubtful again. Doubtful that illness will give way to sustained wellness, long enough for me to truly improve the facts of my life (finances, home, security, health). I’d walked into the doctor appointment aiming to share all of the healing experiences and breakthroughs of recent weeks, but I ended up crumbling into a puddle of tears and wanting to hide from life. Even though I can identify exactly what was at the root of today’s trigger – and therefore, have the chance to rise from it – I still feel owned by PTSD.
I’m sitting in the waiting room post-session, writing and balancing out. I’ve enjoyed smiling and feeling lighter over these past days, and want to return to that freedom. So, I shall pause here until I regain the positivity – coming full circle, yet again.
Cycles, indeed.
OM Shanti.

Today was a really rough day.
My feelings are at the bottom of a trash can right now. I went to therapy. I went to a recovery meeting. I reached out to friends. Please, Lord, whoever you are… help me change.

19 September, 2018
(After watching the video, “Real Situations Expose Fake People”)
The day I tried to kill myself – May 8 2018 – was a very real situation. 
And guess what…
Nearly everything Trent Shelton describes here came true. I’m still reeling from the betrayal. I’m still stuck in this complicated relationship. And my rage is becoming poison. The emotional bottom I hit this week is a direct result of my not letting go and moving on. Of fear shaping my decisions – or more so, my indecision.
So. As Trent encourages:
Will I continue to let this break me? Or will I let it make me?
All day (and now, all night), I’ve been planning my next suicide attempt. Curling up in a ball of defeat – by the fake person, and, by my disease.
But wait! I don’t want to die – I just don’t want to live like this anymore. PTSD can’t keep choosing my actions. And this person can’t keep owning my ass.
Only I can change that.
Wish me luck, folks. Because if I ride with Trent, my tank might get pretty empty for a while. But only from that loss will I gain the room to grow.
Oh, lord.
Here. We. Go.

(After reading the piece, “A Dress Rehearsal for Our Deaths”)
Beautiful perspective piece about the holy reckoning of Yom Kippur. 
“…thinking about your death can bring you much closer to experiencing true joy. It ‘compels us to squeeze out every bit of life out of every day that we have,’ she says.”

Yes, I’ve been up all night, mustering a will to live.

(After receiving a message from FB…)
Dear Facebook staff.
Thank you for letting me know that someone contacted you out of concern for my well-being, after seeing my recent posts. Thank you for sending the hotline number. Please keep doing this for others. Brilliant.
I understand the concern.
Posting transparently about my life is part of my growth process. Rigorous honesty among this amazing community – with whom your media platform keeps me connected – avails me the solutions I seek. Still, not everyone perceives the constructive aspects of my sharing. They are there, they are clear.
If I’m here, I’m here for help. If I’m not here, I’m in trouble.
Posting transparently on Social Media is not for everyone. It works for me, because I have hundreds of kind, wise, experienced and loving friends out there. Bringing my insides into public light frees me from the grip of darkness. And I realize that solutions are abundant. I click on comments and consequently see my way out – as friends urge me through.
I yearn for life and am willing to work toward living.
May my openness and friends’ support serve others. 💚
Love and thanks, Facebook.
Your fan –

(Later that day…)
After a (more than) slight interruption to my originally scheduled program, I’m back to it.
What. A. Week.
Thank you for hearing me, for holding me, for helping me toward healing. You are wise and experienced, my friends. I am grateful for you. May I grow balanced, whole and strong enough to hear, hold and help you, as well.
May my “dark night of the soul” be remedied by returning to ritual – in community, with passion. Off to synagogue I go!
(Just in time for the always-poignant breakout groups and social justice panel.)
Signing off until sunset and break-fast, y’all. I LOVE YOU! L’Shana Tovah and good Yom Tov.

22 September, 2018
Trauma: The Teacher AND The Lesson
“I always share with my students that our biggest traumas are our biggest strengths and deep intimate knowledge that we can use to help/serve others…”
~ Gita Zember

I needed to hear this brave woman’s words today. Although I share the same guidance with my yoga students and teacher trainees, my recent battles with PTSD often leave me feeling like a useless fraud. I’m pondering, “How could knowledge of and experience with my traumas morph into strength and service – when they seem to be getting the best of me lately?”

I’ve always been the one who touted the process of going deep – of facing, addressing and healing from wounds and their scars – because I was an example of the healthy outcome.
Until now. Increasingly, I suffer severely from the symptoms and consequences of PTSD. Despite continuing to seek and utilize a variety of healing treatments, I feel far from healthy. After each dark dip into the abyss of trauma flashbacks, I emerge shell shocked. And sometimes, my treasured brightness returns so quickly that I feel like a dimwit for letting the disease trip me up, yet again. I also wince at the concern I’ve caused in the dear ones who cheer me on, and, the scorn I’ve caused in those who will never understand.

Well, I’m glad I’m writing right now – because gratefully, the answer came to me. This must be a period of learning to understand a deeper layer of my trauma experiences. It makes sense. I’ve felt so bewildered by every symptomatic episode. Clearly, this is completely new territory. Not the same old trauma stuff, hahaha.
I must trust that I am being shown something important and valuable through these current struggles. I must allow the pain enlighten me. And once the process yields new solutions, they will enhance the resources I share with others.

When I do my sacred inner work, and when I trust the messenger of pain – my traumas become my teacher, and, my teachings.
Looking up…
OM Shanti

25 September, 2018
Allí está: la luna preciosa.
We missed seeing her through last night’s stormy skies. I’m definitely feeling her fullness now – even 24 hours after peak.
I keep asking her, “What do you want from me? Tell me – what do you want???” I could just sit here and cry over wanting to know god’s will. If only…
Still, over and over, I ask.
What does she want from me?

Horoscope for Leo & Leo Rising

~ Chani Nicholas
“September’s full moon asks you what your struggle is helping you to become more aware of. Sometimes we need strong encouragement (read: no other choice) to do the thing that is the most challenging to do. As the end of September and beginning of October unfold, the problems that you are able to address will set the stage for future efficiency. What structural support can you provide yourself? What psychological support can you connect to? What daily practices connect you to solution-based strategies? Put your energy there and you’ll find that any current concerns become entry ways into incredibly insightful investigations.”

29 September, 2018
A little scared.
A lot hopeful.
Cutting off my hand
to spite my heart…
Tomorrow morning, I will NOT be teaching my long-running Sunday Slow Flow class…and naturally, I’m feeling blue about it.

For many reasons and after deep reflection and counsel, I resigned from my manager and teacher roles at Embrace yesterday, and was told to make it effective immediately. So, not only am I not teaching tomorrow morning – I’m not sure when I’ll be teaching again. And, yeah, it feels weird!
I am posting super-happy photos with a super-sweet message because I feel so awake, alive and hopeful!
Over the past year, I’ve been pushed to let go of a lot. If you’ve read these mini-blogs since last Rosh Hashanah, you’ve seen me grieve a breakup and navigate my dad’s huge health changes. Now, I’m releasing a living situation, a job and relationships that have not served me for a while. Above all, I’m on an exhilarating journey toward letting go of life long behavioral patterns by working with new guides, healers and resources for personal change.

I often refer to my May 8th suicide attempt as the day I “tried to carve my hand off.” Lately, I’ve come to find more poetic meaning. Perhaps I just needed to let go and move on. May 8th was the beginning of this period of intense surrender, due to a string of realizations and breakthroughs regarding unhealthy attachment, codependence, and absolutely untrue, negative opinions of myself. These traits led me to such a devalued, self-loathing state, in which I feared that my triggered behaviors would never change. So, I tried to carve my hand off…I tried to let go completely, to die. And upon failure, I sought and dove into new layers of help. I’ve learned that there’s a sweeter way to let go than chopping off my own hand…all I have to do is tap gently on my heart, and open up to compassion. I see that love is greater than fear. I feel the rewards of release.
I am free.
And in this newfound freedom, there is room for growth, space for joy, and promise of possibility.
Onward and upward!
OM Shanti.

30 September, 2018
What. A. Week.
The Full Moon.
Another set of soul-mining therapy sessions.
Monthly Ayurvedic massage, interrupted by fussy, sweet little pup.
Posted furniture for sale due to approaching move.
Dry-run Metro commute from new HOME in Bethesda to fave recovery meeting in Takoma Park, for friend’s 6-year anniversary.
Honest conversation at dinner reunion with recovery gal-pal.
First dentist appointment in 5 years!
Eye-opening doctor appointment with sugar, cholesterol and weight diagnoses that demand attention.
Final (who knew?) Basics class in AdMo.
Weekly mindful yoga class with the budding “officers of the peace” at the MPD.
A work meeting and a goodbye.
Gorgeous autumn city walkabouts, FarMar lounging, city strolling and spontaneous quality time with friends.
And, finally, after too many days of overnight restlessness and anxiety – a normal night’s sleep.

What’s next?
Breathe fresh air from the wide open window.
Get out of bed late, for a mid-morning Sadhana of Pranayama and Mantra Japa.
Prepare and enjoy steel cut oatmeal with agni-stoking spices, hemp hearts and banana.
Smudge, bless and straighten up room.
Laundry, people…laundry.
Email love and thanks to yoga family.
Update resume and apply for one awesome job.
Enjoy a toasted sandwich with Prairie Bread, ghee, Chao cheese, Asian pear and Atwater’s plum jam.
Head to Silver Spring for tea before the 5:30 meditation class at UP! Yoga Studio.
Continue the transition away from stuck and sick, to fluid and well.

And tomorrow, October 1st:
Make-up for last Monday’s interrupted massage with a free session!
One breath at a time, y’all. Sending love, sharing strength, wishing wellness.
OM Shanti.

5 October, 2018
(Y)our power…
Right now, my FB page is a love song to women and assault survivors. A series of posts that remind me to take care of, celebrate and empower myself.
After spending yesterday afternoon and evening around the U.S. Capitol and Office Buildings, I became bluer than blue. I grieved this country’s great betrayal of women. As I’d posted earlier, I recently watched a woman close to me crumble from the triggers of these times. My heart broke.
Today, sparked by one friend’s uplifting post about the 1st woman to run the Boston Marathon (shared on my page), I sought FB posts with inspirational messages and wellness resources. I’m choosing to deliberately shape my mind toward potential, rather than futility.
Yes, in the coming days, I’ll still grieve if things go any more sour than they already are…I will honor the losses our country is experiencing…and…I will embrace, enhance and rock our/my power.
I pray you will, too.
OM Shanti.

10 October, 2018
Good morning, sad and beautiful world.
Today, I love my perfectly imperfect self. I hope you do, too. OM Shanti.

Stay alive…
For anyone who’s feeling like dying these days…sometimes I imagine a safe, trusted being holding me in their caring arms.

“I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close ‘til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive”
~ José Gonzalez

Stay Alive

There’s a rhythm and rush these days
Where the lights don’t move and the colors don’t fade
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow
In a world gone lean

Sometimes there’s things a man cannot know
Gears won’t turn and the leaves won’t grow
There’s no place to run and no gasoline
Engine won’t turn
And the train won’t leave

Engines won’t turn and the train won’t leave

I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close ‘til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive

Well the way I feel is the way I write
It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies
There is a truth and it’s on our side
Dawn is coming
Open your eyes

Look into the sun as the new days rise

14 October, 2018
Sometimes I mistake fear for pain.
It would serve me to ask myself:
Does this hurt? Or does it scare me?

18 October, 2018
Last night, after a full-on trigger episode, I fell asleep begging for all gods and goddesses to wrap their arms around me for safety.
“No humans,” I said, because I just couldn’t feel safe with them.
I slept heavily until my 6am alarm sounded, interrupting a dream of my dad and bagels.
It was a dark night; yet, from those same shadows, today’s bright mood emerged. Onward and upward.
Dear HP, may my pain bring me closer to you.
Goodnight, y’all.

11 November, 2018
To witness the dying…
Over the past two days, I’ve had the honor of sitting with my dying father. On another plain already, he gently motions with his hands and softly gazes at things I cannot detect. I wish he’d let go, I wish he’d hold on, I wish he’d let go, I wish…
My sisters, who live near my father in Tennessee, have been navigating this process like champs. A natural mess of tears and reason. I, on the other hand, am on another plain of its own dimension. I sense that this, too, is natural.
Today, I sang and recited Jewish prayers, spent quiet time and said my goodbyes to Dad – I’m still waffling whether to stay close or go back to DC for now. He’ll be put on pain-control tomorrow and will probably leave us soon after.
I’m too tired to write more…

12 November, 2018
One Day At A Time…
THANK YOU for helping me make the decision between staying with my dad during his transition, or, going home to DC then returning when he passes. Your gentle encouragement and beautiful sharing reminded me why I must stay.
As I experienced when my mom passed 16 years ago, there is a personal, spiritual and ritualistic significance to being present with a transitioning soul. Plus – this is my FATHER, who has given me everything throughout life. I was not thinking clearly yesterday, while making my decision to leave TN. In fact, my thoughts were clouded by fear.

As you may know from past blogs, a huge part of my father’s and my relationship included unhealthy financial dependence. Since finally becoming independent in late adulthood, I’ve learned to prioritize work and income. And this colored my decision making process this week. Staying in TN means I’m missing income commitments. In addition, it means I’m delaying securing new work opportunities to replace income lost when I recently resigned from the yoga studio.
So, the ONLY reason I would have left TN is financial fear – and paradoxically, a feeling of responsibility to my father.
However, I must believe that the right work opportunities will be available after this time with Dad. And thankfully, my sisters have given me enough money to stop being afraid, and start being present for the man who supported me in so many ways.

So, I’m staying. And each evening – if or when fear arises – I will revisit your messages, comments and texts. I will focus my entire attention on loving Dad, and sharing this time with presence and reverence.
Thank you.

Thank you, again, all.
I just watched my beloved father die, after decades of watching him live the fuck out of this life.
As he took his last breaths, I repeated, “I love you. Thank you,” over and over.
Dad will forever influence me in so many ways, from deep passion for music, to the ability to love through thick and thin, to a brilliantly effective potty mouth.
Dad was a tough cookie. I learned resilience through hardship – and much, much more – by his example.
Irvin Meyers, may you, indeed, Rest. And Peacefully.
Love to all.

16 November, 2018
Dear Facebook Family,
First, thank you for being just that – family. I never thought that I’d consider social media a source of wisdom, inspiration, strength and much more. But YOU make it that way. And I thank you for filling my newsfeed and my life with great care and love.
Second, deep gratitude for every single word, “Like/Love/etc” click, photo, quote and thought that you have ever shared with me. You’ve brought me through some harsh times, and celebrated the good with me, as well.
Please know that, each time I see that someone has clicked on a post, I take that person into my heart and mind for a moment. I recall the awesome web of connection that brought us together – in-person or online. Life is soooo big – and in delightful ways, the world is soooo small.
Not just this past week – during my father’s final days and passing – but during the big events of my Facebook lifetime, your outreach has truly carried me. I hope and pray that I offer the same to you. Tonight, I’m catching up on your posts and filled with awe at your lives and loves. I wish you all that you need along this journey.
Seeing you in person is, of course, a huge joy, as well! This season, there will be gatherings and offerings and workshops and more. My dad has left me with a strong push toward productivity, purpose, practice and passion. Please stay tuned.
Much, much love to all of you. Holly

28 November, 2018
Some days, the world is so heartbreaking…
…and yet, so beautiful – that all I can do is repeat “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” over and over, until that last bus ride ends, and the walk home under the stars brings cleansing tears.
May all beings be free of suffering, realize peace and be filled with light.
OM Shanti.

18 December, 2018
What’s my part…?
Many negative events occured in my world over the past 15 months or so. Family, friendships, work and home were all uprooted by serious events.
And I was wronged by some people. Harmed. Betrayed. Disappointed.
Yet, still, I must ask: what was my part?
When I point a finger at someone else, I’m pointing three back at myself. In the situations where both/all parties have been able to self-reflect and take responsibility, we’ve experienced deep healing and a fresh relationship.
In the situations where someone or I cannot see our wrongs…well, some things must end. (Or, at least, I’m letting go for now. I do believe in healing.)
I must remember, when I’m struggling to see my errors: sometimes it’s simply that I made a bad decision to be/stay somewhere unhealthy. Taking accountability does not always mean that I willfully struck outward in harm (although sometimes, it does), or that the entire event was my fault.
And if I can see – truly see and understand – where I stayed in a toxic situation long enough to get burned, then there’s a huge chance that I will sidestep similar situations in the future. Why did I stay? What fears kept me there? What unhealthy patterns need an overhaul?
Without this reflection, it’s onward to the next painful scene.
It’s my choice – either open the door of healing, growth and change, or, walk by a closed door.
I aim to step through.
Much love and strength as we reflect on months passed…and step forward.
OM Shanti.

25 December, 2018
Merry Christmas from NoLa, y’all!
What a beautiful landing – over Lake Pontchartrain and the mighty Mississippi. Now, I’m running out before the rain inevitably hits. Feels UH-mazing to be in the tropics…and, to renew my relationship with this city, which 25-28 years ago, held a host of light and dark experiences. Looking forward to shining fresh light over these three days!
Ciao for now!

26 December, 2018
Good morning…
May this day be yet another of looking back in order to move forward. May I embrace the power of acknowledging my bumps, stumbles and scars as gifts. May I step forward in service.

I can’t lie, y’all – yesterday made me squirm! How uncomfortable I felt in this city that I know so well! So far, New Orleans has flooded me with STRONG memories of when I lived here in the early 90s. “That used to be the little postal shop where I mailed packages;” “I lived there before I dropped out of UNO grad school;” “That’s the curb I sat on, watching street musicians and drinking tequila out of a paper bag.”
Well, considering that I last visited NoLa in 2003, at 6-months sober, and I now have 16 years of sobriety (thank god and community), this return ought to feel quite remarkable.
I now know why this visit was a must: upon awakening this morning, I understand that missing New Orleans meant that a key part of my healing is missing.

Most of y’all know that I attempted suicide last May. (Sorry if that felt like a bomb dropping for some.) The recovery has been UH-mazing. Thanks to finally receiving a proper diagnosis from the brilliant psych doctors at Georgetown University, and ongoing healing with a wise and experienced team, it’s onward and upward.
Exactly 28 years before last spring’s attempt, I’d tried to kill myself while living here, in NoLa. Just before Easter 1990. From then forward, I’ve tried everything to understand my impulse toward dying (which has been with me since childhood trauma), in an effort to quell it. It ends up that, as long as my mental illness went un- or mis-diagnosed, it would only get stronger…even if it laid dormant or disguised or “treated” for periods. (Let me tell you – being an active alcoholic during much of that time did not help. But being misdiagnosed while sober was even worse.) Hence my progressively imbalanced behavior over recent years and relapse toward suicide last spring.
Today, here I am, solidly sober, devoted to yoga and recovery as designs for living, and finally being treated for PTSD w/ Memorized Trauma Flashbacks. I’ve not felt this positive in my entire life. As I said, my recovery, healing and growth have been immense since May.
And this trip will be a huge chapter of that story.

As I wander the city today, I’ll aim to be more mindful and present. Yesterday, I hit the ground running, and everything hit me just as forcefully. Although it IS fun to cruise these streets as a “local,” today I will ceremoniously recognize the distance I’ve come from those lost and painful days of the early 90s. In the street folks that unnerved me yesterday, I’ll see my reflection, and offer compassion. At the locations where I felt wobbly with memories, I’ll ground down and honor my journey to the now. And I’ll fuse the wisdom from past experiences with the self-knowledge that serves me daily.
I am grateful to the depths of my being to be alive, to be a seeker, to have what I have…and to not have what I don’t! I honor this life and yearn to serve those with similar pasts, journeys and feelings.
May this day be full of spirit, heart and soul.
Love and thanks to you, New Orleans. Love and thanks.
OM Shanti.

29 December, 2018
I swear, I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried…
‘They say’ that there are no coincidences. Well, I’m beginning to believe ‘them.’ In the final hours of my trip to New Orleans, I took a streetcar uptown, around River Bend and into Carrollton. I explored longer than expected; so, on the way back downtown, I debated whether or not to stop in the Garden District to see my very first NoLa residence. It’s the apartment where, in March 1990 – midway between the chaotic frivolity of Mardi Gras and the reverent rebirth of Easter – I tried to kill myself.
So, Thursday evening, I was on the streetcar, undecided. It was dark and raining hard. I was wet and tired, and my flight was in about 3 hours.
At the last moment, when the conductor announced “Jackson,” I pulled the cord.

I wasn’t 100% certain of my old address. I knew it was somewhere around Jackson, a few blocks or so toward Uptown. But as soon as I saw the blue Victorian turret, I knew I’d found it: 2357(and 1/2) Magazine Street, Apartment #2. My apartment entrance was in the back courtyard, which was now gated and locked. I rang each apartment’s bell on the fence, suspecting that they no longer worked. Nobody answered. So, after a few moments of noble silence, I left.
As I turned and walked out of the driveway, a woman walking her dog arrived. Victoria lived in the front apartment, but gladly let me into the courtyard, where her dog Sam, she and I spent a little time. Victoria asked me when I lived there and why I left.
HM: I lived here 28 years ago; and I left New Orleans because I needed to stop harming myself.
V: So you’ve stopped drinking and using drugs completely?
(Victoria could have answered in a million ways. But she chose to go there.)
HM: Well, yes – it took me 12 years after leaving New Orleans to get sober; but yes, I’ve been clean and sober 16 years now.
V: That’s great!
HM: Y’know…I tried to kill myself in there.
V: Oh, god…yeah, I’ve been there…
HM: Do you drink and drug anymore?
V: No, it’s been 6 years!
(There’s a bit of a “secret language” among recovery program people. One sign is when someone can tell you the exact length that they’ve been clean and sober.)
HM: That is great! Do you do that alone, or with help?
(Another code phrase.)
V: Oh, I have help. I have a 12-Step Program.
HM: Me, too! Oh, wow, how cool to meet you!
And the rest, as ‘they say,’ is history.

In the recovery program, we say, “We don’t regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” In those final moments of my NoLa vacation – because I chose to walk face-first into my past – a door to healing, hope, connection and growth opened wide.
Lord, people, I couldn’t make this shit up!
Wishing everyone the renewal they seek as that calendar page turns from 2018 to 2019 – and on every damn day that our eyes, hearts and minds stay open to healing, growth and change.
Onward and upward! Love and thanks! OM Shanti.

31 December, 2018
New energy…
Lapiz earrings, amethyst heart and palo santo from my New Orleans rebirth trip; and handcrafted mugwort, lavendar and rosemary smudge bundle from Homegrown Healing.

I am grateful for the unexpected, as synchronicity rains down upon me. Let’s just say that, from Solstice through Christmas, and right now, so many positive energies have been aligning. Exhaling thoroughly…stepping forward…breathing in new energy.
OM Shanti.
And happy 2019.

I’ll just leave this right here:
“…Amethyst is still a remarkable stone of spirituality and contentment, known for its metaphysical abilities to still the mind and inspire an enhanced meditative state. Its inherent high frequency purifies the aura of any negative energy or attachments, and creates a protective shield of Light around the body, allowing one to remain clear and centered while opening to spiritual direction. Amethyst stimulates the Third Eye, Crown and Etheric Chakras enhancing cognitive perception as well as accelerating the development of intuitive and psychic ability. It initiates wisdom and greater understanding, and is a stone of comfort for those grieving the loss of a loved one.
Amethyst’s ability to expand the higher mind also enhances one’s creativity and passion. It strengthens the imagination and intuition, and refines the thinking processes. It helps in the assimilation of new ideas, putting thought into action, and brings projects to fruition. It is a talisman of focus and success.
~ wisdom from Shankari Goldstein

3 January, 2019
Soothe, shift, grow…
Today, I start a new style of therapy. You might wonder, “More therapy? But you’re feeling soooo goooood!” And it’s true, thank goodness!
The fact is, that goodness will not last without ongoing care. Self-care, of course – and, the care of family, friends and professionals. In this new therapy style, I have to accept that Soothing is the 1st step when handling a severe PTSD trigger. For me, at first,that seemed like Avoidance. Because, typically, I jump head first into healing, growth and change. But I’m learning that Soothing is essential. I’ve been practicing this since May, and have experienced more peace and balance than ever!
The point is – if I step back instead of in, I have a chance to shift my response, get grounded, and learn new ways of navigating discomfort.
In this therapy style, Soothing is neither Avoidance nor Self-care. It is a skillful transition from trigger to solution. I’m grateful for ALL the care around me on this wellness journey! The care from others, and, the self-care of yoga, recovery and willingness to utilize infinite resources that I’ve been lucky to find throughout life.
Love to all. OM Shanti.

6 February, 2019
Lucky to be a survivor…
Today, I taught the Commander, Lieutenant and six detectives from the DC MPD Youth & Family Services Division. These folks see and address the worst, y’all.
Their presence, dedication and stillness during class – from intention setting through Yoga Nidra – is remarkable. It is so stirring to watch these officers melt from tension to relaxation with a mindful flow yoga class. And my lord, they deserve it!
I am honored to guide the MPD in this sacred, healing practice. I am grateful to my teachers who trained me in trauma-sensitive yoga. And I am lucky to have the perspective of a trauma survivor.
Yup. Lucky.
OM Shanti.

17 February, 2019
There’s nothing like a good cry…
What. A. Week. In many ways, I feel like the last 10 days define the current condition of my heart and soul.
Being of service, showing up for friends, encountering an ex- with forgiveness and presence…supporting indigenous communities, seeing mentors play live jazz, teaching mindfulness to athletes, kids, and cops…guiding a signature yoga workshop and being inspired by students’ dedication, enjoying new connections and rich conversations, and, navigating, processing and being supportive during my sisters’ current troubles.
Right smack in the middle of all this, I received a Soul Retrieval from a healer. This age-old Shamanic ritual addresses the parts of the soul that have splintered off during trauma. There are a host of contemporary psychology parallels. The goal is to reunite the broken person with wholeness.
Funnily enough, I didn’t think I was ready for the treatment. My schedule has been scattered, my mind has been riddled with resentments, and my health has not been tops. Not to mention – I’d have to go directly from a Soul Retrieval to the police department yoga class via Metro.
It turns out, I was ready. As the healer journeyed on my behalf, I visited “little me’s” who’d been afraid since childhood – and invited them back into my body. I saw a person I’ve raged at for months – and recognized her humanness with deep compassion and understanding. I saw a lot, I felt even more, I cried, I spoke words I can’t recall, I cried more, and I even laughed uncontrollably. I reached a depth of healing that I’ve not been able to access for months. Resentments softened into forgiveness. My past became useful but distant. My mind felt at ease, my heart felt renewed. All at once, I found I could love myself unconditionally. I felt liberated.
And now, this healing allows me to show up for myself, for others and for life like never before. I am free to love.
But this is just a beginning. I have homework! My job is to continue integrating these sweet, vulnerable, long-lost soul parts back into my being. I must do this without trying to be perfect, without avoiding difficulties, without fear. I must do this with love, and only love.
Before this, love was a challenging thing to define. Is it a verb? A feeling? A lofty concept? Although I still can’t explain it with universal meaning, I do know what it is to me. And I’m humbled, floored, flattened with gratitude.
From indigenous protests to jazz festivals, from self-care to volunteer work – my world came back to life over these past 10 days. My homework is before me, but there’s no test at the end. In fact, there is no end at all. Just process and growth. And love.
OM Shanti. Holly

25 February, 2019
Root down, y’all…
In his FB live message this morning, my beautiful friend Bomani was waxing poetic about this wind and its messages. What foundation do we stand upon when conditions want to topple us over? Are our roots deep enough to withstand challenge? When we “get grounded,” are we cemented, or still flexible? Can we sway and still find balance?
Ancient texts have asked similar questions. And nature – most ancient teacher of all – blows these reminders our way on purpose!
My personal takeaway? As Bomani encouraged…I’m rooting down in life’s blessings, in positivity and in gratitude. And on a very practical level, I’ll probably eat some root veggies, do a standing meditation and avoid dry, cold foods.
With this as my foundation, I feel balanced, flexible and ready for the next gust. ‘Cause we know it’s comin’!
Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly

26 March, 2019
Oh, NPR…
The subject – how to help suicidal youth who have experienced trauma.
One expert opinion on this show: only those who suffer in silence end up killing themselves.
As a suicidal youth, with multiple attempts along with constant self-harm, I don’t know what could have shifted my trauma-damaged brain. And I was not suffering in silence. My struggle was quite obvious. I carved my initials into my arm. I got drunk before and after school. I had violent temper tantrums. I did and dealt drugs. And, as a suicidal adult in therapy for PTSD, in recovery from addiction and practicing yoga for peace of mind, I shared my struggle openly. But flashbacks owned me and simply looked – and felt – like bad behavior. Again, my suffering was not silent. But my community’s and my own misunderstanding of my undiagnosed symptoms made me hard on myself; and in failing to “get better,” I gave up on living.
Another expert on suicide says: suicidal impulses are treatable, because they stem from depression.
But having PTSD, and dealing with a “memorized trauma experience” due to a trigger dynamic is totally different from depression. And in a flashback, there is no grip on reality, no stopping the impulse to die. The attempt happens with blind resolve and at lightning speed.
Thankfully, last year’s suicide attempt led to correct diagnosis, excellent treatment and my ongoing focus on wellness. Today, I want to live. But look what it took to reach this point.
Still, even from the experts, I hear generalizations about suicidal folks that just don’t match my own – and probably millions of others’ – experience.
My non-expert opinion is pretty harsh, though. When it’s time, it’s time. Whether it’s old age or cancer, murder or suicide, everyone has their time. Perhaps that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye, or, to deal with a traumatic death. I just wish the world was an easier place to seek help for sadness, for depression, for PTSD, for any state of mind that craves deadness or death itself. For example, in my opinion and experience, anyone who is getting drunk most days is not suffering in silence…it’s an obvious sign of inner pain.
There’s so much more to write. So many cans of worms are open these days. Each week, more struggling souls are reaching out to me to talk about their own pain.
May all beings be free of suffering, realize peace and be filled with light. May the light of truth shine through the darkness.
Love love love.

3 April, 2019
Today was…
…hmmm. Today was raw. As I was out and about, between my temp gig and two MPD yoga classes, I was yelled at, called an idiot, treated like an idiot, called a bitch, called white trash and flipped off – among four separate, remarkable instances.
Such anger out there. My lord, we are all hurting so much. I just kept wishing love. But now, I am exhausted to tears.
Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But words can never
Hurt me.
Then why do I feel so bruised?
May all of your days be free from attacks of all kinds. May all who attack find peace. May all beings, everywhere, find love.
Onward and upward.
P.S. This is not about me hurting. I’ll cry and pray and sleep and renew. It’s about everyone hurting. Everyone. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. Peace, please.

5 April, 2019
On the brink of spring…
What a difference two days, sharing transparently, and, feeling loved make. Thank you, sacred FB community, for voicing your thoughts about Wednesday’s rawness. In recovery, when we experience such rattling of the mind and feelings, it is advised that we: ask god to remove the intense emotions; discuss them with dear ones immediately; quickly make amends if harm was committed; turn our efforts toward being of service; and, recall that love and tolerance is our code.
Recovery – from addiction, from trauma, from harm – is all about personal growth, and consequently, growing to understand others. It is about growing toward effectiveness in human relations. And it is a lifelong process.
Spring reinforces these ideas. Although it appears as so, flowers do not bloom overnight…their process began the year before, when their petals fell to the ground…and before that, when seeds and sapplings and bulbs were first planted…and before that, when earth was nurtured for plants…and before that…well, you know where this goes.
All lessons can come from mother earth. And of course, from sharing openly, and listening closely.
I love you all.

8 April, 2019
Last year…
Around this time in 2018, my mental health was starting to bottom out. Approaching this anniversary is, at once, daunting and inspiring.
More to come…
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti. Holly

17 April, 2019
To my sacred FB community…
I don’t remember the last time I wrote anything like this here. Maybe never?
I am feeling emotionally low due to difficulties in one single and important area of life – my job search.
Positive thoughts and vibes are appreciated.
Love and gratitude.

Sometimes my ass needs to get kicked…
Last night was one of those times: sitting with my landlord, confessing that my job search has yielded nothing, and accepting the potential consequences – which run wider than possibly having to move. Thankfully, we like each other; and, she’s a wise woman. So, within her stern butt-kicking was the reality check and coaching that I needed. It was humbling, to put it nicely.
I just haven’t been seeing my priorities clearly. Since leaving my last job, I’ve believed that my search for a full-time job in the field I prefer was the responsible thing to focus on. You know – to get a full-time job, you have to treat your search like a full-time job. And a serious full-time job pays the rent, secures the future, etc.
But over these months, my idealism gradually morphed into denial. And I lost sight of my approaching financial crisis.
This crisis. Right now.
So, last night was rough. The solution? Pound the pavement for restaurant and retail work. Put the dreams of a wonderful nonprofit job and grad school aside. Again. For now. Well, just decrease the time I spend on the full-time search. A little.
This morning was raw. Until I reached out. To you.
And here I am, at the end of the day, feeling GRATEFUL. Yes, grateful. Because I spent today being shown that there are so many good things in my life. Including talents, skills, energy, support, positivity, hope, friends, income (little bit), chutzpah, a home that’s more than a roof over my head, and more. Feeling grateful yields possibility. Possibility yields opportunity. And I’m banking on it.
THANK YOU, community, for all of your vibes, concrete ideas and contacts. I promise my networking will be less desperate from here on. Still, feel free to kick my ass when it’s necessary!
Onward and upward!

22 April, 2019
Love, Eros, Life Force…
(From a plaque at the mentioned art exhibit: “Warriors & Heroines: Throughout her career, Sanchez turns repeatedly to females warrior and heroines in classical mythology and history for inspiration. ‘Women have always been tragic and heroic. It is better to see them as love — Eros — or a life force, than Thanatos, or an impulse to dies. Dying has no strength…’”)
Attended the Zilia Sánchez retrospective at The Phillips Collection yesterday, and was caught off guard by the quote on this plaque. In fact, I stood there, frozen, my face in my hands, crying.
About one year ago, over a two-month period, I’d traveled to Florida for Spring Training, attended a beautiful Passover Seder, contracted and battled pneumonia, and then went on a phenomenal Buddhist retreat. I’d also been experiencing increased PTSD triggers – even during the retreat – and was feeling powerless over the futility of repeated and uncontrolled emotional episodes.
Finally, on May 8th, during what I would come to understand as a yet undiagnosed “memorized trauma experience” (aka flashback), I tried to kill myself. I’d had yet another emotional outburst, jeopardized my stability at home and work, and despised the stuckness of my mental illness.
I just could not stand myself.
Nearly a year later, I’m on a different track. Due to a correct diagnosis, appropriate meds and treatment, a shift in interpersonal dynamics, and ongoing wellness priorities, I’ve learned how to stay regulated during PTSD triggers. Yup, they still happen! And always will. The distinction today is, on this new track, I no longer need to react in terror (flight) and defense (fight). I still feel intense emotion – positive and negative. But when negative, instead of rocketing into a flashback, I stay present and respond. Sometimes more gracefully than others – still, it’s progress!
Thank god for the many layers of support on my side – from meds to friends. Today, I want to live this life that I deeply adore.
So, yes, as artist Zilia Sánchez expresses on this plaque and in her art, it is better to see ourselves as a vibration of love and life, rather than the impulse to die.
“Dying has no strength” – living requires strength, and, makes me stronger.
I am Eros, I am love, I am vibrantly alive.
Love and gratitude.

24 April, 2019
Hugely good and bad, happy and sad things happening at once.
Trying to be real with my feelings. But honestly, they don’t know which way to go. Tired. Goodnight and rest well, y’all.

28 April, 2019
A rose between the thorns…
Joy and pain. Sunshine and rain. 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Whichever way you slice it, life is layered with good and bad. My job is to condition my insides, so I’m sharing an unshakeable core of purpose outwardly. Sometimes that core looks like crying and grief; other times it looks like an empowered smile. What’s the essence? To be real, to be raw, to process. To get grounded, to get connected, to embrace purpose. And then, to share strength.
My classes this weekend invited yogis to journey through the 1st three chakras. To tap the earth’s energy, to trust connection and to empower purpose.
The world seems to be a shitty, scary, hateful place right now. In the midst of that, I vow to do the sacred inner work that informs my state of being and shapes my way of being – whether grieving or smiling.
As y’all have told me – just keep going.
I love you all.
OM Shanti.

2 May, 2019
Folks, I’m embarrassed but willing to publicize that I’ve gained 15 stubbornly un-lose-able pounds since going on a specific meds combo last spring, after my hospitalization for PTSD. I know, I know – you’re going to say to me, “But you look great!” because you love me and have observed me feeling quite lively of late. And I agree – being alive feels quite good these days; and that goodness shines from the inside, out!
Lots of positive things are happening right now. I have no complaints. However, I am worried. Over the winter, my doctors said that, along with the weight gain, I’ve been storing bad fats and cholestoral, I’m prediabetic, and my sodium is high.
Yes, me!
And I feel it. My clothes either don’t fit at all, or, don’t fit like they should. Especially around my hips and belly, which is where we store LDL cholestoral. Lord, I feel so heavy. Sooooo…
I’m saying outloud:
I’m starting a wellness challenge for the month of May. It involves increased belly-pumping breathing (Kappalabhati), core-focused Asana (yup, that’s me saying “core”), abdominal twists, brisks walks and green smoothies. And. Decreased sweets, oily restaurant food, and gluten.
If you have additional insights or want to join me for any of this, please chime in! My life depends on losing this weight and adopting new practices. Your wisdom is welcome.
Thank you for loving me. Just remember, though – a glowing smile does not equal excellent health.
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti.

5 May, 2019
May the wind take your troubles away…
Feelin’ all the feels here, at the Son Volt concert. They just rock so damn hard, with those heart-plucking, twangy harmonies. And I’m remembering that one year ago this weekend, my mental health was deteriorating to ashes.
Wednesday marks one year since my suicide attempt. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact state that is coming over me as I take in this very soul stirring music. Sorrow and awe. Sorrow and awe. I’m sorry I tried to die. And I’m in awe of my love for life.
More later. Back to the concert. It’s encore time…
Love and gratitude…

6 May, 2019
Looking up…
My brain is telling me to die, but my spirit wants to live. I recognize the disconnect and stay proactive.
Although it’s a challenging day, up there in my brain – during a challenging week for my heart – I’m deliberately re-training it toward truth, beauty, openness, positivity. Discussing the Yoga Sutras with a fellow Raja Yogi. Choosing one friend to call and check in with. Accepting an invitation from a friend in recovery. Reflecting. Apologizing. Forgiving. Walking in nature, and also sitting inside the Medicinal House at the Botanic Garden.
Next, I will head to National Gallery, to gaze at another form of creations. Later, some journaling.
Shift happens. I’m doing my best.
Love and gratitude.

7 May, 2019
Some days are better than others…
I knew this week might toss some surprises my way; but I’d been feeling so positive and present of late. Then the emotions started to hit. On Sunday, memories of last year’s mental health issues – which led to my May 8th suicide attempt – started to surface. At first sorrow. And awe. Yesterday was full-on anger and resentment. I thought I’d like to stay home and write – to skip work, skip meetings, skip therapy. After cancelling everything, I became so distraught, I rescheduled the therapist – who did not see that note and did not show up.
I sat in the building’s stairwell, sobbing. Done. Truly giving up. Giving in to the part of my brain that wants the ultimate relief. The end.
But how would I do it this time? In my journal, I wrote the note. At the end, I wrote: whatever way I choose, it better work.
And it did.
Because here I am today. My spirit’s passion for living won the knock-down, drag-out battle with my mind’s negative brain fart. It was exhausting. And rewarding.
For the first time in a life of attempts, ideation and yearning, I saw and acted upon the deliberate path toward CHANGING MY MIND.
First, I stayed put and cried. I imagined the ways until I’d seen them all fail. Then I called one friend and talked out the way that I would continue the mind shift. Not calling a therapist for talking. Talking wouldn’t work. I needed to engage. So, I walked until I could feel my dissociated body again. Until I could see beauty again. And I indulged and connected as deeply as possible.
Along the way, I texted with a yoga philosophy buddy about Sutra 1.33, compassion, and forgiveness. Then, it was time to head home to meet the recovery friend who, first thing that morning, had invited me for tea.
My psychiatrist once told me: “Holly, for you, connection is more powerful than any pill you could take.” I am on meds (a must for now); still, he’s right. Connecting with my body, nature, beauty, beings is the remedy for tapping into my spirit.
And even when my brain says otherwise, my spirit wants to live.
Thank you all for being with me in spirit. I feel you.
Onward and upward.
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti. Holly

MeMay2019Blue.jpg8 May, 2019
Exactly one year ago…
…I was at Georgetown University hospital, getting my wrist stitched up. Four long hours later, I was admitted to the psych ward, where I would live for 2.5 weeks.
Tonight, I’m at the John Paul White and Erin Rae concert, more than ready to start the next 365 days anew.
Bright lights in my heart and stars in my eyes! Let’s do this, y’all.
Love and gratitude.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly



Remember When I Quit Teaching Yoga? September 7, 2016

Forgive me WordPress readers, it’s been…10 months since my last confession. I mean, since my last blog.

“Fearless” was a rather brief, mid-winter explosion that came just one month after – in the previous blog and all over social media – I announced that I’d quit teaching yoga. “Fearless” disclosed how unsafe I’d been feeling in the world, how my busy-ness helped me hide from that feeling, and, how a friend’s yoga class invited me to be still…and find clarity. In short: “I learned I can simultaneously – and calmly – feel afraid and be safe. If I had run, or hid, or drowned, or denied…if I had not faced and inquired about my fear, I wouldn’t have understood it the way I do now. Although not completely liberated from fear (I need to find the tools to be present and clear with certain everyday things), I own it; and, I distinguish it from situations, places and people. Today, I realized that the hearts of those formerly-perceived scary people are just like mine – and, they are at the fingertips of my fearless, outstretched arms.”

“Fearless” launched months of deep work with my PTSD triggers (which had been popping up since November, and would continue through the holidays), and, a 10-month disappearance from this blog site.

*  *  *
THWL2(18June2011)My November departure from yoga teaching had been abrupt and self-centered.

As explored in my “Taking Stock” blog, “I quit teaching yoga last week. There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. … The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots.”

I was scared. Scared that nobody liked my mindful style of teaching anymore. Scared that students would continue to complain. Scared that studio owners would continually pressure me to be something I’m not. And it became hard to remember …what was I, anyway? Was I a traditional Hatha teacher? A modern Vinyasa teacher? An alignment-based teacher? A Chakra teacher? A beginners teacher? A seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher? A philosophy teacher?

One thing was certain – I was not an exercise teacher. But yoga trends and studio feedback said “move more, instruct less, explain nothing.” So, I quit. But for my annual New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop, I stopped teaching yoga.

I don’t know what I was thinking! Hahahahaha…

Gradually, I started to get my confidence back. I am a traditional Hatha teacher; a modern Vinyasa teacher; an alignment-based teacher; a Chakra teacher; a beginners teacher; a seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher; a philosophy teacher. My practice and teaching was rooted in my first experience with Kundalini yoga, has grown through a variety of teachings and traditions, and, is now thick with 20+ years of reverence for yoga’s incredible value beyond the class slot. Therefore, my classes are never about exercise. They are about passing on every single gem that all of my teachers so generously shared with me. Practical tools that enhance outer strength and inner peace in everyday life – for the rest of our lives.

So, I came back. Tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously, I tip-toed toward the yoga arena.

One of the main reasons that I felt secure returning? An invitation from Faith Hunter, the owner of Embrace Yoga DC. Embrace itself had seen its share of pushing/pulling/tugging/nudging/elbowing from the yoga universe. Opened in spring 2012 as a space where Faith could build her brand, guide her Yoga Teacher Trainings, and, develop her trainees as instructors, the studio morphed through a number of incarnations and disappearances over its years. At one point, with the studio offering a skeleton schedule, Faith moved to New York to focus on practicing with her own teachers. Little did we know what else was brewing.

In February of this year, she tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously stepped back into the yoga studio biz. Still living in New York, she put the word out to DC teachers: teach from your heart at Embrace. That’s when I dipped my toe in the now-welcoming waters. I offered “Follow Your Heart,” another of my signature, annual workshops. And I started teaching “Yoga For Life,” a weekly pay-what-you-can class.

Over the summer, Faith planted both feet back in DC and cultivated a rock-solid teaching, customer service and management team. In its same bright, beautiful Adams Morgan location, Embrace now offers a full schedule of weekly classes with an amazing group of seasoned teachers. We are one of the most diverse studio staffs in the city – an eclectic collection of yoga influences, cultural backgrounds and life experience.

I am honored to share the schedule, practice and work with these noble beings.

*  *  *
At this moment of writing, I am choked-up with tearful gratitude. The universe works in mysterious ways. And I am just wrapping my head around where I’ve landed, and, what the near future brings.

I am now the Studio Manager at Embrace. During my part-time hours, I team up with Faith, advisers, vendors, teachers and studio assistants who tackle our business head on! We have accomplished so much since my May start; and I am thrilled with the positive energy and outcomes we are generating.

Beginning this week, I am teaching three (!) classes on the Embrace schedule. On Mondays at 7:30pm, I’m leading our “Basics/Level 2” practice, where we dissect and fine-tune sequences, poses and breathing found in typical Open Level classes. We have “Breathe & Meditate” on Wednesdays at 7:45pm, which re-awakens our wonderful weekly mindfulness community, cultivated in 2014. And “Yoga For Life,” our venue for life-long yogic traditions, continues on Sunday mornings at 8:45am.

This coming Sunday, Embrace will observe the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with “9/11: Urban Oasis.” Our regularly-scheduled classes – including Yoga For Life – will be free. Surrounding those practices, the studio will stay open from 8am-8pm, with Embrace staff welcoming yogis, friends and community to a peaceful space for rest and reflection. I hope to share some time with you (away from the crowd of Adams Morgan Day, BTW).

When Faith is away for weekend teaching travels, we are scheduling “guest teachers” in her Sunday 11am slot. From October 16 through November 6, I will guide “Come Together,” a four-week, pre-election exploration of yoga’s immense resources for individual serenity and community harmony. After warming up with intention-based Sankalpa Vinyasa, we will practice partner and group poses, bringing a sense of collaboration and levity to increasingly tense times.

In the midst of all this, “Diwali Intentions” – our annual observation of this 5-day Hindu holiday – will be held by candlelight at Embrace on Sunday, October 30th, 8-9:30pm. This Sankalpa Vinyasa practice supports the sacred inner work of inventory and intention-setting, and serves as a precursor to our New Year’s Eve gathering.

Faith has graciously offered me – and all Embrace instructors – the freedom to bring our hearts to the table in our teachings. In addition, she has entrusted me with staff guidance, operations supervision and community relations. Perhaps, though, the most breathtaking invitation came when Faith asked me to consider being a lead instructor for her Spiritually Fly Yoga Teacher Training, starting this November. This was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. I had to sit down for a moment. I cried a little. My heart swelled with gratitude. I said yes.

I can’t lie (nothing to hide, as always) – all of this feels at once exhilarating and daunting. This is the most that I’ve taught since 2011, when my classes were full and the yoga-workout trend was barely blooming. Beyond shadow of a doubt, I am excited to be once-again teaching my most earnest and foundational offerings. Still, at moments…well… Y’know that feeling when you organize a big party or event, and then fear that nobody will show up? Yup. That happens. Inside of my chest. That anxiety arises at times.

Plus, as a Yoga Teacher Training instructor, my responsibility is deep. Not only must I petition divine guidance to humbly serve in this capacity…I also have to design some pretty serious curriculum! (Which I love doing, BTW. I am eager to start.)

*  *  *
Being asked to teach teachers acknowledged the worth of my long and devoted journey with my beloved yoga.

The invitation came after a very committed period of inner sacred work, surrounding self-doubt, relationship fears, trust issues and more. It came when the fruits of this rich work were ripe. It came from a person who is my friend, my teacher and my boss! Coming full circle since I quit teaching last November, I see that I wasn’t done…I was just resting. I am re-rooted in the ancient discipline that shapes every moment of my present existence.

And, although feeling a little anxious, my “Fearless” blog reminds me: “…stability and risk co-exist.”

Great gratitude to the gods, goddesses, gurus, guides, guardian angels, great spirits, eternal mysteries and teachers that accompany my direction and decisions. Thank you knowledge, thank you nature, thank you love. Thank YOU.

May we all know that quitting is sometimes resting, and that resting is always empowering. OM Shanti.


My Mother is My Guru November 2, 2011

Mom’s been on my mind a lot lately.

And y’know, it makes sense.  I’ve been singing a lot (my mother taught me to sing).  It’s Autumn (October 2nd would have been her 81st birthday).  Thanksgiving is approaching (my family celebrated our last holiday season with Mom 10 years ago).  And I recently celebrated my 9th year clean and sober (my mom died as a result of long-term alcoholism).

I miss her.  I miss her right now.

Nearly a decade after her death, she still taps me on the shoulder at times.  She taps me when I’m playing percussion with bands, chanting devotional prayers at Kirtans, singing Gospel standards at open mics and lighting the Chanukah candles.  She taps me when my yoga instructor asks me to think of my most important life teacher.  She tapped me this morning while I was meditating.  She taps me when I’m pruning plants or arranging flowers.  She taps me when I’m decorating my home.  She taps me when I’m cooking a soup.

There are times when I reach out to tap her, too.  To hear her opinion.  To ask for her embrace.  To thank her for my life.  To apologize for any harm I did to her.  To grieve the pain of her life.  To send her the love she deserves.

I didn’t always love my mom the way I came to love her later in my life…later in her life…and then after she died.

*  *  *

I’m about to tell you some very personal and difficult stories.  Some are smiling and shiny; some are gritty and rough.  All are bittersweet.  I’ve selected these stories because they specifically prove that, indeed, my mother is the greatest Guru ever.  For me.

When I was young I hated my mother for being an alcoholic.  As an adult, I would learn more about the disease of alcoholism and honor the tragedy of her life.  But while growing up, I simply resented how drunk she got.   I was constantly afraid that my friends and the community would see her drunk; and because they frequently saw her, I was frequently embarrassed.  One time I spilled out the drink that she intended to take in the car on our way to Shabbat services – and she slapped me.  It was a gin martini.  To this day, I cannot stomach the smell of gin.

There were times when she came through as a great mother.  She was a hard worker, had full-time jobs, and did not drink during the day.  She truly wanted to show up, and when she could, she did.   But what I understand now is that her efforts to parent were overshadowed by the neglect.  In the end, alcohol always won her attention and became her priority.  Spill it out, and you became a threat.  So I learned to keep a distance.

*  *  *

During my college years, I grew to appreciate my mother.  My attitude shifted after I took my family to see a friend’s concert.  The next day at lunch, my friend said, “It was great to meet your mom.  For the longest time, I thought she’d died before we met.  You always talked about your dad – you never mentioned your mom.”  Whoa.  I had no idea I’d erased her so completely.  And then my friend said, “Y’know, you get a lot from her.”  I was so pissed off!  I argued, “No way, I have nothing in common with her!”  So he stated the obvious, judging by what I had told him in the rare instances of speaking about my mom, and his impression the night before.  She grew up singing; music is her passion; she gravitates toward soul music; she loves talking with other musicians; and, she was so comfortable backstage – it was the most natural place she could be.

That day, I surrendered my resentment and admitted that my mother had been an ally and soul-mate all along.  Clearly, I got a lot from her!  The passion for music, for soulful cultures, for gardening, for cooking, for interior design, for spirituality.  My mother taught me to sing, primarily through chanting the Sh’ma, a Jewish prayer, in harmony.

My mother did so much to inspire and encourage creativity.  Every morning, she’d have her coffee and cigarette while listening to WMAL-AM, when it was a jazz station.  Over breakfast I was exposed to the music that my mom had sung in talent shows and concerts – great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and more.  Although a blue eyed farm girl from the capitol of country music, my mom gravitated toward jazz and gospel.  In fact, I have her 1948 song book of Negro Spirituals.  This immersion in soulful music influenced me to write my own songs and perform them at my parents’ frequent parties.  Mom enrolled me in voice lessons.  On beach trips, she’d blast the radio and we’d all sing along.  She invited my high school New Wave band to hold a house concert.  When I was a little older, my drummer boyfriend invited me to tour California with his band – Dad said a firm “no” but Mom fought for me.  (I went to Cali.)  And so on.

At the same time, many opportunities were missed.  For example, there was a lot of self-taught musicianship and talent that was never deepened with consistent instruction or plans for ongoing development.  I do regret this and often feel that music education might have been my best choice for college.  Looking back, I don’t blame my mom for any of this, because I am certain she would have guided me in that direction if she could have.  I blame the disease of alcoholism.

*  *  *

As my mom became progressively ill, my love for her grew immensely.  Alcoholism and related troubles continued to take its toll in more serious ways.  In her 60s, Mom had cancer three times.  On the outside, she remained the strong-willed woman who could get through anything.  She continued planting gardens, harvesting herbs, cooking from scratch, building an art studio in her bedroom, doing crafts, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, drinking gin.

But there were points where I witnessed her heartbreaking vulnerability.  With each cancer, my mother never completely healed – more and more complications arose.  She became scared.  I once heard her crying in bed the night before one of her many surgeries.  When she was diagnosed with emphysema, she quit smoking and remarked with self-disgust, “I could have done that a long time ago.”  She would willingly try my yoga and diet suggestions, but was so sick that she’d end up feeling worse.  Toward the end, I remember laying next to her tired body on yet another day that she woke up with a “bug” that left her vomiting and weakened.  I will never forget the terror in her eyes when I urged her to go to the hospital.  Perhaps she knew she was dying and wanted to stay at home as long as possible.

That was Thanksgiving, 10 years ago.  I think the family dinner included Mom, Dad, two of my sisters, three of their kids and me.  That night, in my mom’s art studio, I drew an abstract of the scene.  My mother and father were angels at the heads of the table – Mom’s garden spade and a green vine enveloped us on one side; Dad’s cigar and its smoke on the other.  To me, both the vine and the smoke represented protection.  I sensed it was Mom’s last Thanksgiving.  I was right.

*  *  *

After my mom died, I developed a deep, knowing compassion for her.  Interestingly enough, I got sober six months after her death.  I’d started drinking at age 11, to calm the childhood chaos and hush the deep resentments.  Twenty five years later, as I came to understand the cunning, baffling and powerful disease that nearly killed me, I also came to understand the disease that succeeded in killing my mom.  Listening to other recovering alcoholics’ speak, I heard my mom’s story.  I saw how the disease had destroyed her life and consequently affected mine.  And I loved her even more.

My greatest awakening about my mom’s life came about four years ago.  By complete surprise, I found out that she had a child before meeting my father.  Stories said that she’d been hanging out with musicians in her native Nashville, might have been drinking, might have been raped…and ended up pregnant.  Her parents sent her away, to a “home for women” in DC.  The home arranged the birth and subsequent adoption.  They say that Mom was so angry, she never forgave her parents.  And so I found yet another thing that my mother and I had in common – we both drank to kill life’s pain and drown our resentments.

The biggest difference is: I got lucky and got sober; she did not.  I take that very, very seriously.

*  *  *

So yes, my mother is my Guru.  Throughout all the phases of my relationship with her – dead and alive – she has been my most influential teacher.  She teaches me with the light, and she teaches me from the darkness.  She teaches me through what she did, and what she would/could/did not do.  Her influence drives my passions and my purpose.

I love everything about her.  The singing lessons, the slaps, the strong will, the vulnerability.  She is the ultimate model of the perfectly imperfect human that I strive to be.

It’s taken me a day to write this.  I started when I finished meditating this morning.  I stopped and started and stopped and started again.  I cried my heart out.  There’s so much more than what you’ve read above, so many more experiences and stories, so much more grief and love.

*  *  *

Back in 2009, I went on tour with a folk-pop band and I took along a photo of my mom.  I’ve heard that the picture was taken in DC, at the women’s home, some time after she had the baby. She is beautiful and glamorous; she is too thin and her eyes look cold; she stands tall and her hands fumble with each other self-consciously. So I wanted to take this version of her on this exciting musical journey. Every night before I went to sleep, I lit a candle and thanked my mom.  I now play percussion and sing sacred chants in an all-female Kirtan group.  I’ve noticed that Kirtan leaders and spiritual teachers typically create an altar with a picture of their Guru.  Coming full circle, I can think of no one more perfect to place on my altar than the woman who sang Hebrew prayers with me, every night at bedtime.

Good night, Mom.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.


Gratitude! October 28, 2011

We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.
– C. Day Lewis, The Poetic Image

Over the past few months, a number of new people have subscribed to the blog, have “Liked” certain posts, commented on posts, and/or, have “Liked” the Urban Yoga Den page on Facebook.  I just want to say thank you.  It’s good to know you’re out there.  OM Shanti.

(Thanks to “Inspired day by day” blogger, Susana, for the quote!)


The Happy Heart Project: The Halfway Mark October 20, 2011

“Hey, I’m trying to hard to see the light, to see the light – to see it burn thru.”  – Abigail Washburn

When it comes to maintaining and manifesting an intention over 100 days – and that intention is to overcome a nagging internal darkness and move deliberately toward joy – it is imperative to know which tools, resources, practices and people support that intention.

So here I am, halfway into a project I started on a whim (for background, please see final note, bottom of page), and I am clearly learning what works – and what doesn’t work.

Back in August, when I started this daily ritual, joy felt elusive.  The origin of that challenge was a string of unfortunate, traumatic and painful experiences beginning in June 2010.  So the “Project” actually represented much more than a flippant whim.  It became a “Sankalpa” (deep intention, commitment, resolution) that would hopefully free my mind – and life – from the grip of PTSD, depression, anger and resentment.

And a shift is happening.  Of course, there are days when fear, negativity and doubt emerge.  Normal stuff.  At the same time, I have to be careful to not let those days stretch into a mindset.  So I reinforce my Sankalpa.

*  *  *

Move.  Toward.  Joy.

MOVE does not happen in the mind.  MOVE denotes a deliberate effort.  MOVE is an action word.

In yoga, when I think of action, I consider how I can take my practice off the mat and into everyday life.  To me, “practice” is a synonym for “action.”  Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Practice yoga, and all is coming.”  A simple metaphor – when we take action, things happen.  Aphorism I.14 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when efforts are made over a long period of time, constantly, and with great love (or devotion, earnestness, zeal).”

So again I mention the importance of tried-and-true tools, resources, practices and people to support my 100-day Sankalpa ritual.  They have encouraged my efforts, motivated my practice and strengthened my devotion.  Other influences, however, have been downright derailing at times.

What works and/or doesn’t work as I aim to maintain and manifest my intention to move toward joy:

WORKS: Being honest.  With myself and others.   This, by far, has been rule #1 for me.  THE best elixir for battling the stinking thinking.  Not convincing myself that everything is OK when it is not.  Not writing a bunch of “happy” lies in this blog.  Sharing my process with my circles, communities, co-humans.  Being honest about everything – feelings, ideas, plans.  Saying when I feel scared.  Saying when I feel confident.  “Sticking a pin in it” when my balloon of negativity, doubt and fear gets too inflated.  Getting it out.  Sometimes constructively, sometimes like a vent.

WORKS: Being listened to – being heard.  This means choosing the listeners carefully.  To truly be heard, I want to talk to those who have the patience, compassion and love to listen to everything I need to share.  People who care to know my insides.  People who care for my well-being, who have my best interest in mind.  People who do not immediately launch into fixing the problem.  I know this about myself: I need to let it all out – my stories, my theories, my feelings, my problems, my solutions.  Once I’m empty, I become spacious, calm and able to listen to feedback.

WORKS: Listening to, considering and/or heeding well-informed suggestions from people who know me well, who’ve stuck by my side through thick and thin, with whom I connect regularly, who are mental health professionals and/or who are trusted teachers whose experience I trust.  Listening to others’ stories.  Being as open-minded and willing as possible – yet still discerning, keeping my peace, purpose and sustainability in mind.  This is explored further in #1-4 below.

WORKS: Listening to and truly hearing loved ones’ and trusted beings’ encouragement and positive opinions.

WORKS: Staying close to those loved ones and trusted beings.

DOESN’T WORK: Trying to do this alone.

DOESN’T WORK:  Tolerating bossy, know-it-all recommendations (thinly disguised as concerned advice) from people who don’t know me very well (or who mistakenly think they do know me very well because maybe they used to know me a long time ago, or maybe they’ve read my writing or have heard me speak, or for whatever reason, they believe that we are alike), who have shown that they don’t care to know me authentically, whom I have not seen in a very long time, who intrusively beeline over to me because they’ve “heard what I’m going through,” who give medical advice without medical credentials and/or whom I absolutely do not trust.  And do you know what else doesn’t work?  Allowing these people to get under my skin; allowing myself to feel judged by these people; allowing myself to cop a resentment.  Indeed, at times, my vulnerable mind lets this happen!  What works then?  Taking a pause, replacing the false thoughts with a positive belief, and then understanding that these people are coming from a place of fear and/or a need to control.  I can have compassion for them, nod politely…and move on.  Or, avoid them altogether.  Or, be direct and say, “Thank you for your concern; I have a great team of supporters whose advice I am following.  So at this time, I want to stay on track and not add other suggestions. ”  Smile.  Walk away.  Bam.

Phew, that was a sassy little rant!  Sometimes I create my own frustration by being so open and honest about my process.  But, I’d rather have the opportunity to discern between appropriate/useful advice and inappropriate/fear-based advice than not get any advice at all!

*  *  *

In addition to clarity about support and action, I’ve also started to feel very clear about the process of cultivating positive change.  Thankfully, I’ve learned so much of this from the infinite influences I’ve said “yes” to over the years.  Here are the steps I’ve taken this time around:

1 – Let go of what doesn’t serve.  I’ve heard it a-thousand times, and it really is the best starting place for me.  This past summer, after what seemed like a year-long endurance test of trials and tribulations, I started letting go of anything that doesn’t represent deep peace, true purpose and long-term sustainability for me.  Jobs, relationships, belongings.  I took risks.  In the case of jobs and relationships, if I couldn’t leave immediately, I began to cultivate an exit strategy.  One by one, I started saying good-bye.  I will be honest – financially, it is beyond stressful.  But I really needed to let go and be liberated.

2 – Take time in the spaciousness created by letting go.  I learned to not fill the space YET.  To grieve the losses.  To feel uncomfortable.  To admit and accept my mistakes.  To witness my doubts, dreams, stories – positive and negative, real and imagined.

3 – Reflect on what brings deep peace, explore what constitutes true purpose and envision what looks sustainable in the long-term.  I have exposed myself to influences I might not normally consider.  I’ve read-up on the Occupy Wall Street efforts; I’ve started taking a high-power Jivamukti class; I’ve listened to Pema Chodron CDs (I love Pema, but am not typically a fan of audio learning).  And I have indulged in activities I absolutely love – that nourish me and bring instant joy.  I have seen live concerts, bought new CDs (please see the bottom of this blog to check out the video for the above-quoted Abigail Washburn song), listened to comedy, practiced yoga outdoors, watched baseball games, enjoyed inspiring films, participated in the Jewish High Holy Days.  I have let ideas and passions brew.

4 – Define peace, purpose and sustainability.  During the peak of Occupy Wall Street and the Jewish High Holy Days, I was struck with the strongest sense of self I’ve experienced in a long time.  It seems like a combination of the results of numbers 1-3 above, the pressure of calls to action in the media, and, the intensity of moral inventory, atonement and forgiveness sparked an energy of self-definition for me.  From Facebook, other media and other sources, I gleaned quotes that called to my soul, compiled them in a journal, and started aiming to live them, day in and day out.  They include: “Occupy within: a movement in awakening;” “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more deeply in your heart;” “The unexamined life is not worth living;” and, “Do I feel happy?  No.  But I feel progress.”

5 – Take action – fill the space.  A few days ago, a yoga teacher friend exclaimed, “How’s your new life?”  She’s referring to the many changes I’ve made since the summer, when I started this process.  I reflected silently for a moment.  “It’s very empty…” and just then, a light bulb clicked on in my mind.  “It’s time to fill it,” I answered, with resolve.

This is coming up for me now that I clearly understand what works and what doesn’t to practice my Sankalpa with consistency and zeal.  With that support, I can tackle some next steps, which include: seek a  job that fulfills my true needs and allows me to continue teaching yoga; seek new yoga teaching opportunities; continue deepening my PTSD sessions and exploration; conduct a fearless self-inventory that not only identifies how I was harmed over the past year, but that also identifies what my part, mistake and/or contribution may have been to those troubles; practice forgiveness of myself and others; commit to other practices that direct me toward joy.  Thank goodness, there are many!

Let’s see what happens over the next 50 days…taking it one day at a time, of course.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love – and a light that burns thru.  OM Shanti.

(Here is the lovely song containing the opening quote of this blog.  Enjoy!)

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” – an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.  For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I will wake up, burn a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  Each day I’ll post a “Happy Heart Project” status (and accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then see what happens during the day.  Periodically, I’ll post an blog that covers my journey.  I’m excited that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and is sharing the journey!  Join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!


The Happy Heart Project: Days 1-31 September 29, 2011

I’ve read that we replace 1% of our cells daily. Every 100 days we have a new body. What that new body consists of is the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink, exercise we take and thoughts we think.  – A friend

Three-plus boxes of incense and 31 days ago, I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” as a simple way to set an intention.

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28th, I lit my first stick of “Happy Heart” (an incense by Maroma) and made a commitment to move toward joy for that day, and that day only.  Because that’s really all I have – one day at a time.

When I started this “project,” I understood there would be no guarantees.  The dark funk of the past year (or so) would either stay or go.  And indeed – over the past month, that funk has left, returned, become darker, been replaced by light, strengthened, weakened, disappeared, appeared again…you get the picture.

Still, it’s the intention that makes the difference.  It’s the intention that gives the journey purpose, that keeps me honest with myself, that drives me toward solutions, that sparks change.

*  *  *

“Sankalpa” is a Sanskrit word loosely meaning “intention.”  Other definitions include: commitment, resolution, resolve, will, purpose, determination, motivation.  I have heard from yoga experts that the act of reinforcing a Sankalpa has the power to replace and erase destructive habits, unwanted thoughts and false beliefs, aka negative “Samskara” (patterns created by the “scars” of life).  Setting this positive, committed intention is like a deep practice of “Pratipaksha Bhavana” – replacing negative thoughts with positive.

“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.  I cling (loosely, hehehe) to this promise that my sometimes dark, anguished and seeking (aka human) mind can be calmed by yoga.  And not just the movement of my body on a mat, but all of yoga’s calming practices, from Pranayama (the movement of vital energy through oxygenation, aka, breathing) to setting a Sankalpa.

*  *  *

So how did the 1st month of “Happy Heart” burning go?

Well let’s see…in no particular order:

During a three-day yoga retreat, I had a soul-bearing conversation with a beautiful old tree, a powerfully silent meditation at Satchidananda’s tomb, and a thankful turn-of-the-corner from darkness to light.  Since returning from retreat, I have awakened between 5:30 and 7am each day to practice Pranayama, meditation and prayer.  I reunited and hung out with wonderful friends; listened to Car Talk and laughed my butt off; took a nourishing Asana class with a teacher I’d never experienced; saw the Washington Nationals’ win their final home game; saw “Our Idiot Brother” (silly comedy) and “The Interrupters” (intense documentary).  After consulting with trusted doctors, I paused my PTSD therapy in order to soften the intense triggers arising after the June mugging.  I finally started sleeping through the night and balancing out during the day with the help of herbal and nutrient-based supplements.  While walking near my home, I saw the guy who mugged me, followed him (again), called the police (again), and lost him (again).  I received very caring attention from DC MPD detectives.  I met with a DC MPD inspector who likes my idea of teaching Pranayama and meditation to traumatized cops.  In response to these recent tough times, and, the approach of my 9th anniversary of addiction recovery, I increased my recovery activities and started receiving regular guidance from a recovery program mentor.  The early-recovery gal that I was mentoring moved on to work with a different mentor.  I showed up for others; picked up my friend’s kids from the school bus stop; listened to friends who are hurting.  I had a panic attack, triggered by a false belief that someone was going to abandon me.  The all-female Kirtan group I’m in – The Shaktis – guided a roof-raising night of chanting at a yoga center.  I continued teaching my three yoga classes per week, with a focus on “Everyday Enlightenment” – observing how we carry our Eight Limb influences off the mat and into daily life.  I showed up for my part-time retail job; I reached the end of my rope with ongoing poor treatment by a co-worker; I quit that job.  Today I interviewed for a new job.

I healed, I worried, I laughed, I grieved.  I walked with confidence, I asked for help.  I felt pissed off; I felt forgiving; I felt human.

In other words, I experienced life.

Somewhere around Day #20, there was one morning that I felt so frustrated that I did not want to light the incense.  I did it anyway.

Because that’s what a Sankalpa is – a commitment, no matter what.  A firm resolution to stick with the positive action despite all challenges.  Or, even better – a firm resolution to meet all challenges with positive action.  Whether that positive action is to grieve authentically or celebrate joyously.

*  *  *

At this moment, under the new-new moon, I am preparing to attend Rosh Hashanah services.  The Jewish New Year launches a period of intense prayer, forgiveness (offered and requested), and atonement.  After 10 days, on Yom Kippur, we seal these efforts with a one-day fast.  I didn’t plan it this way – but after these 31 days of ups, downs, turned corners, endings, clarity and renewed intention…the rituals of the High Holy Days are the perfect way to start my 2nd month of “The Happy Heart Project.”

More will be revealed.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” – an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.  For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I will wake up, burn a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  Each day I’ll post a “Happy Heart Project” status (and accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then see what happens during the day.  Periodically, I’ll post an blog that covers my journey.  I’m excited that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and is sharing the journey!  Join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!


The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy August 26, 2011

“The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” launches this Sun., 8/28.  Curious?  See below, then “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook or subscribe to to stay informed, join in, and/or, share your efforts!

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I will launch “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy,” an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.

The “Project” idea arose when Whole Foods Market discontinued my favorite morning ritual incense – Happy Heart by Maroma’s SPA line – leading me to buy their last 10 boxes.  “Hmmmm…100 days of Happy Heart, ” I thought.  And the project was born.

For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I will wake up, burn a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  I will see what happens during the day, and journal about it each night.  When I finish a 10-stick box of my precious incense, I’ll post an blog that covers my journey over those last 10 days.  The blog will also be posted on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook.

If you’ve read my blog lately, you know that I’ve been in the process of healing from a number of physical and emotional challenges (illnesses, health scares, betrayals, violations) – some have occurred over the past year, and some are connected to older events that have been triggered by recent trauma.  (Please check out “Be A Yogi” and other recent entries for background.)  During this 100 day Project, I’ll share the practices and tools from yoga and other resources that consistently guide me toward the inner peace that allows joy.

I know there are no guaranteed outcomes for this 100-day project – only intentions and footwork, one day at a time.

I’m excited to say that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and will be sharing the journey!  So, we invite you to join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti.


Be A Yogi August 15, 2011

Graduation bliss - me, Sam & Linda at the Ashram.

When I graduated from my Yoga Teacher Training at the Integral Yoga Academy, I heard a lot of advice.

  • Make a list of all the potential places you could teach – not just studios, but other spaces.
  • Market your classes in this way or that way.
  • Remember that not all yoga instructors can make a living teaching.
  • And so on.

But the most important tidbit, to me, came from one of the teaching assistants.

“Be a yogi.”

I had just spent four weeks living at the Satchidananda Ashram; rising before dawn; practicing daily Asana, Pranayama and meditation; studying yoga philosophy; eating a pure vegetarian diet; and wrestling with my humanness amongst the sacredness of yoga.  Despite discomfort and challenge at times, I was grateful for every minute of it.

To be a yogi is ALL that I yearned for.

When I returned home, I didn’t even intend to teach right away.  I offered free classes in my little studio apartment (“The Urban Yoga Den”) to stay in practice.  And then an opportunity to start a yoga program at DC’s SAIL Public Charter School arose.  Once that assignment wrapped up with the end of the school year, I was ready to look for work teaching adults.  Just down the street from me, a new yoga studio called Past Tense was opening.  And in July 2010, I started teaching three weekly classes there.

On August 24th, I will end my stint at Past Tense to take an end-of-summer break from teaching (except for my three classes at Trinity University’s Fitness Center).  I am grateful to Past Tense for inviting me to pass on yoga to the Mt. Pleasant community over the last two years!  As you might have gathered from my last post, I have been sensing a need for change, pondering my integrity and prioritizing my well-being.  Leaving Past Tense will create a simplicity and spaciousness in my schedule, life and mind.  As my friend wished, “I pray that whatever occupies that space brings peace and joy.”  Me, too.

“The Urban Yoga Den” blog is all about living yoga off the mat and in my every day world.  So for now, rather than teaching a bunch of classes, I will be practicing more – on and off the mat.

One hope is to practice Karma Yoga by bringing morning Pranayama practice to the police officers that serve overnight in my neighborhood.  In October, I will travel to Philly for a Kirtan with Jai Uttal to awaken the Bhakti Yoga spirit; then I’ll bounce over to Easton Yoga for a two-day workshop with Max Strom.  In December, I will visit Sanctuary Yoga in Nashville for Seane Corn’s three-day “Detox Flow” workshop.  And in between, I will be here in DC, practicing with my beloved local teachers, until I find the next right fit for a teaching location.

But my biggest wish is to simply be able to walk down the street with an inner peace and joy that shapes my attitudes and actions.  That might mean embracing one or all of the many beautiful suggestions from my caring friends.   For example, practicing “Samtosha” (contentment with exactly what is – i.e. acceptance of and compassion for my own humanness), sending myself Metta (sending myself loving-kindness and well-wishing), and basically, not being so hard on myself.  It also might mean re-committing to the routines that without fail nourish my inner peace and joy.  It also might mean falling off the yoga wagon and getting on again – and off and on again.

Because I realize to be a yogi is to – simply and honestly – be me.

I hope to see and hear from you as I take the steps to re-embrace my core motivation to Be A Yogi.

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti.


Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  –

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.


Healing Kids’ Scars With Yoga July 12, 2011

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC – Potomac, MD to be exact.

Potomac was once known as “The Beverly Hills of the East Coast.”  The town was quite wealthy and had its own brand of celebrities – diplomats, politicians, famous doctors.  Yet there were some plain-old middle class neighborhoods, as well.  That’s where we lived.

I am the youngest of four daughters and was unplanned.  In fact, after the birth of her 3rd girl, my mom had a tubal ligation (aka “had her tubes tied”)…and then I was conceived.  So there’s about 0.02% chance for me to be writing this today.  Yet here I am.

My family members struggled with addiction and endured all that comes with it – violence, chaos, depression, alienation, economic insecurity.  As a young child, I once overheard my parents fighting about family finances.  They said that if I were never born, they wouldn’t have money problems.

This scar has motivated pretty much all of my life patterns (known in yoga as Samskara) – particularly the unhealthy ones.

Believing that I was an unwanted problem, I grew up with a pretty fierce habit of self-destruction.  I’ll spare you the squirmy details of how I used to harm myself and act out.  Due to the amount of pain throughout my entire family, however, there was little attention to or solution for mine.

Once a spiritually inspired, congenial and loving child, I turned into a self-reliant, isolated and troubled teen.  Without the necessary interventions for healing and true growth, I continued my toxic development into adulthood.  No relationship tools, no career path, no future plans.  To be rigorously honest – I spent most of my life either wanting to or trying to die in one way or another.

In my late 20’s, I started to long for inner peace, social connection and maturity.  After finally hitting a spiritual, psychological and physical bottom in 2002, I embraced the right combination of help and have been growing up ever since.

In 2008, I received my yoga teaching certification after 15 years of practice.  My 1st job was designing a yoga program for at-risk youth in a DC public charter school for grades K-7.  The kids were literally climbing the walls.  I once had to yank some down from scaling the hallways by way of door frames.  You might imagine how they initially responded to the yoga program – and to me.  They saw me as a privileged outsider and offered no respect.  To shrink the great divide, I frankly told them about my childhood and consequent adult challenges.  Jaws dropped.  I told them, “If only I’d had the opportunity to escape the chaos inside my classroom, my home and my head to breath, stretch and meditate for one class period, I might have grown up differently.”  Although not all attitudes shifted, a few students opened their minds and hearts and practiced with commitment.  And I enjoyed the incredible honor of witnessing human transformation.

I relate to a great number of inner city kids – we share that core wound of being told in one way or another that we are an unwanted problem.  This brokenness manifests in a variety of destructive behaviors and outcomes.  It fills the streets, supermarkets, buses and trains as urban children endure public shaming and beatings.

In the suburbs, this brokenness and abuse exists behind closed doors.

Like many “do-gooders” I used to focus on working with inner-city populations.  These days I gravitate toward suburban upstarts like me.  Each July and August I teach yoga and percussion to grades 1-6 for a prestigious music school’s summer camp, just four miles from the house where I grew up.  There is a mix of well-adjusted children, kids going through typical growing pains, and others who resemble my own childhood patterns of fear, depression, anxiety, shame, isolation, distraction and destruction.  It is at once heartbreaking and motivating.

I am devoted to the transformational power of ensemble percussion and yoga.  I discovered these amazing practices in adulthood and feel grateful to pass-on their benefits to these summer camp kids.  While learning folkloric Caribbean poly-rhythms, campers open up to team work and trust.  I see the loners gradually shine with talent, the divas turn into helpful guides and the trouble makers take leadership roles.  In yoga class, spazzy and often hyperactive energy transmutes into meditative calm.  Kids who already love and practice yoga (there are more each year) champion the practice; and the troubled ones get a welcome respite from their internal unrest.  In both percussion and yoga class, all are empowered by collaboration and rejuvenation.

I rarely turn yoga into a game for my youth classes (except for the really little guys).  We start class with calming three-part breathing; we set an intention/Sankalpa (typically I ask them to think of something beautiful and breathe it into their hearts); we flow through Sun Salutations/Surya Namaskar; and we practice additional poses depending on the energy of the students.  I have led Pratyahara meditations to balance out the senses and decrease distraction; I have read stories of Hindu deities to much delight; and I have introduced breathing exercises/Pranayama (three-part Deergha Swasam calms them immediately; over-the-tongue Sitali cools hot tempers; belly-pumping Kapalabhati wakes them up when lethargic).

Basically, whatever I teach in my adult classes, I also teach in my kids classes.  Below are a few stories of transformation.  I credit yoga for these stories; I’m simply sharing what centuries of teachers have passed on to each other.

Story #1.  Erik, 11-years-old.

During my time at the DC public charter school, I had an 11-year-old student named Erik.  He was one of those kids I had to peel down from high climbs.  When we started group yoga sessions in January he couldn’t follow directions, stay on his mat or concentrate for a second.  He was constantly looking around, hyper-vigilant and completely distracted.  With good reason – his home life was chaotic and violent.  So I recognized his acting out from my own youth.  After three months of weekly yoga, Erik became more eager to participate in yoga, and was able to concentrate most of the time.  On Friday, March 20th, we decided he would assistant-teach our first class upon returning from Spring Break.  Tragically, Erik and his family were murdered by his mother’s boyfriend the next day.

Erik’s destiny was way beyond my control.  It is bittersweet to recall his transformation through yoga’s gifts; I still access this inspiration and hope when teaching yoga to other youth.

Story #2.  Alyson, 10-years-old.

Another student from that Charter School is still a “private client” today.  Back in Spring 2009, “Alyson” awakened after I’d told the kids my life story.  She bee-lined directly to me and said, “You know how you said that yoga helps you heal emotional pain?  Can I do more yoga with you?”  How honest and revealing!  Alyson excelled in all of her school activities and seemed pretty mature; yet, she frequently set herself apart from classmates.  I soon learned that Alyson’s parents were in serious trouble and she was being raised by her grandparents, who encouraged her to do well.  I was happy that she had support; at the same time, I wondered how it felt to lose one’s parents and end up with another family member.  Since the end of that school year, Alyson’s grandmother has brought her to my home about four times a year for a seasonal yoga “tune-up,” during which we catch up on her latest challenges, and practice a yoga set designed to address those stresses.

Over time, I have witnessed Alyson develop into a graceful young woman and tool-using yogini!

Story #3.  Billy.  11-years-old.

Just last Friday, “Billy” freaked out during Games Day at summer camp.  Billy is a super-smart, overly-eager, talkative camper.  More than others, he needs to be heard, he needs to be recognized as doing well – and he tends to dominate and monopolize the class because of these needs.  Last week, in the Bean Bag Toss, he just could not hit the target.  With each miss, his exclamations became more and more dramatic, and included remarks of great self-disgust.  On his third try (and miss) he yelled “F***!” and stomped off to hide behind some bushes.  “Whoa,” I intervened.  “Let’s take a walk.”  During our stroll, I listened.  Billy was angry because he’d forgotten his water bottle; and he was feeling like he couldn’t do anything right.

He was over-heated, over-sensitive and losing it.  I totally related!

While we headed inside for water, I took yoga’s Pratipaksha Bhavana approach and encouraged him to replace his negativity about Games Day with positive thoughts about his many musical accomplishments.  In fact, I reminded Billy, I’d just paid him a huge complement in front of the entire class that very morning.  He embraced this immediately, saying, “You’re right; this is just one thing,” referring to the bean bags.  Then, on the way back outside, we practiced Sitali Pranayama (inhaling through the mouth and over the tongue; exhaling through the nose) to cool his temper.  It worked.  Billy happily joined the campers and jumped right into the next game.

I wouldn’t dare guess whether these children are/were hurting the same way I did at their age.  However, I vividly recall killing my emotional pain with alcohol at age 11.  So, I can’t help but wonder – what if I’d been exposed to yoga in childhood, instead of finally discovering it (and other healing resources) in adult life?

In the inner city and the outer suburbs, I teach yoga so any child who feels like an unwanted problem might find refuge in and strength through these ancient practices for stilling the mind.  “Yogas Citta Vritti Nrodhah,” I tell them.  Yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.  I pray that these generously healing practices might liberate all hurting children from the pain of family or community chaos before their Samskara mirror mine.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti.