The Urban Yoga Den

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My Father Is My Super Hero June 13, 2014


High School Hunk And Super Hero In Training

My mother is my Guru.  And my father is my Super Hero.

You may have read my blog about Mom being my greatest teacher.  I’ve re-posted it on her birthday, her death anniversary and Mother’s Day…

Why have I not celebrated Dad in a blog?  The man has supported me – carried me, really – through so many things. Our bond is deep, and our love is strong. Particularly now…

It’s time.

*  *  *

Memory #1: I’m just a little kid, transitioning from taking baths, and learning how to take showers. I’m terrified of getting water in my eyes, and extremely sensitive to the cold. Our hot water heater is small; so short showers are essential – as is not using hot water elsewhere in the house while someone’s in the shower (i.e. doing laundry, washing dishes, simultaneously showering in another bathroom). It’s winter. I’m alone in the shower, and the water goes cold. I howl out in pain. Somewhere out in the house, I hear my father yelling at someone. Then the bathroom door opens – Dad to the rescue! He wraps me in a dryer-warmed, fluffy towel and sits me next to the heater, which he’s cranked-up to high. He leaves, shuts the door to keep in the warmth, and goes out to yell some more.

Memory #2: It’s summer. I’m probably about, oh, 8 or 9 years old. Dad and I are in the back yard, by the gazebo that he is building by hand, from scratch. He’s trying to get a nasty knot out of a piece of tangled rope. He’s failing and extremely frustrated. He growls, “Damn it,” throws down the rope, and stomps inside the house. Holly to the rescue! I pick up the rope, patiently un-do the knot, and take it to my father.

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Memory #3: As a pre-teen, I start to sense my father’s immense frustration with my mom’s alcoholism. And, having witnessed Dad’s grief when his sister – my beloved Aunt Jeannie – died from cirrhosis of the liver, I try to make my mom stop drinking. It’s Friday evening. The family is getting ready to go to synagogue for Sabbath services. My mom makes a gin martini to take with her in the car. I spill it out in the kitchen sink. She slaps my face. I sit next to my father in silence for the rest of the night.

Memory #4: In very early childhood, I overhear my parents arguing about money. My father says that, if I had not been born, they would not have financial problems. I would not recall this event – plus the fact that I was an unplanned child – until adulthood, during therapy. For most of my life, this “core wound” had subconsciously shaped my negative self-image as an unwanted problem, plus, engrained my own financial problems. My father is not at fault; he is not a bad person. Such fights are normal between parents under great stress of hardship. My father spoke out of frustration; and he didn’t know I could hear. The kicker? For decades during my own active alcoholism and through tough times in sobriety, my father would give me money (adding up to a great amount in total) – ignoring his own limitations, enabling my pattern of financial instability and reinforcing my “core wound.” Again – nobody’s the bad guy in this unfortunate twist of family dysfunction. The outcome? A bittersweet emotional and financial dependence that would leave both my father and me depleted…


Dad & Me, Nashville, Father’s Day 2013

Memory #5: June, 2013. I find out that my father has serious financial challenges. Having accepted so much from him over the years, I immediately blame myself. Although one of my sisters assures me that it’s not my fault, and encourages me not to take the blame, I still feel partially responsible. That Father’s Day, I visit Nashville to observe how Dad’s doing in general, and discover that his dementia is worsening. I decide that if my DC job search continues to yield rejections, I will move closer to help Dad with his finances and his life until he passes on. I move to Nashville in September – without savings, and without a job. I live on loans from friends while trying to secure work. Nothing materializes. While I spend time managing and improving my father’s finances, my own are crushing me with worry. Family dysfunction rears its ugly head, and due to irrational decisions beyond my control, I am legally removed from my father’s affairs. I return to DC to start from scratch…celebrating some victories on behalf of my dad, but completely broken, inside and out – and, heartbroken at leaving my beloved father.

These scenarios sum up Dad’s and my relationship – two people trying to save each other, amid a backdrop of historical family dysfunction, hardship and stress. Not the healthiest dynamic, we know.

Still, we love each other more than anything in the world. And love is rich with mistakes and forgiveness, imperfection and acceptance. Dad’s and my love is messy, for certain – but it’s our mess.

*  *  *

My father is my Super Hero.

He once blamed me for the family’s money problems. He enabled me financially for decades. And through his enabling, he rescued me from dying.

On Easter Day 1990, I floated around the French Quarter in a soul-shining haze of gratitude for life. Days before, I’d stumbled around my New Orleans neighborhood in a drug-induced haze from a botched suicide attempt – my 2nd in one week.

I’d become unemployable, and was spending most of my days in the same pattern: Wake up with a stranger and drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my dad’s Exxon credit card. Make my way to the French Quarter, buying a quart of cheap tequila on the way. Sit on a curb, eat 7-11 sandwiches, drink out of a paper bag and listen to street musicians. At the end of the day, go drinking with the street musicians. Take one home. Wake up the next morning and start over.

Little did he know…my father was financing this debauchery. Had he not, I’d probably be dead. Despite living dangerously, I had my own apartment, control over its key, and, a car with gas in it and a phone in the case of emergencies. I had money for food, and money for booze. I didn’t have to ask strangers for help, and I didn’t have to live on the streets.

Still, I was clearly lost. And compulsively stuffing a lifetime of unaddressed trauma  (results of family hardship and addiction-related events) into a tequila bottle did not remedy the internal self-loathing and defeatist thoughts. So I decided to give up. Twice in one week, I combined as many substances as I could buy and steal, and went to sleep hoping to not wake up – yielding failure both times. Apparently, suicide was not meant to be. The 2nd time, I resigned to stick around and spent the next 12 years seeking the desire to live. I would still drink alcoholically; I would still depend on my father’s money; I would still leave jobs, men, friendships; I would still jump all over the map trying to run from myself; I would still end up living at home at times; I would still battle with my internal negatives.

Simultaneously, new influences started to chip away at my self-reliance, avoidance and denial.

On October 22, 2002, at age 37, 12.5 years after that Easter awakening and six months after my mother died from complications related to alcoholism, I crawled into the rooms of 12-step recovery. I started to pick up the pieces of 26 years of active addiction, and began my current journey of holistic healing through yoga, recovery, therapy and other wonderful resources, responsible living, and, amends for past mistakes.

I called my dad that afternoon. “I just went to my first meeting,” I told him. “Good,” he answered, exhaling, with a tone of relief in his voice.

He did know.

*  *  *

Moving to Nashville meant the chance to pay a great debt to my father. Or so I thought.

Despite what happened – the financial ruin, family conflict and emotional depletion – I am grateful for those seven months (what I now call a “successful fact-finding mission”). In fact – due to all that happened, I had the opportunity to see the big picture clearly, to face the facts of my relationships with my siblings, to discover the reality of my father’s financial patterns, to redefine my relationship with him, to enjoy a major emotional breakthrough, and, to embrace a new way of thinking.

Those negative stories associated with my “core wound?” False. I am not an unwanted problem. The happy ending to this story? IT’S NOT MY FAULT.

Hitting my own financial, emotional and spiritual bottom during my attempt to “save my dad” actually saved me. So again, in a roundabout way, Dad rescued me. Had I never gone to Nashville to face his and my financial realities, patterns and mistakes, I would have never been freed of that debilitating “core wound.”

Amazingly, since planning my move from Nashville back to DC, I am no longer paralyzed by negative thoughts when trying to apply for jobs. I no longer feel a shameful, guilt-ridden debt toward my father. I know what I owe him – and that is LOVE.

Liberated, I have moved into a fresh, new phase, uninhibited by false beliefs that used to paralyze me and squash any chance for adult development. I am embracing life with more passion than ever, rediscovering true connections with friends, cultivating community in my beloved hometown…and…working my ass off!

Dad has always been my consistent source of encouragement, faith and unconditional acceptance. He’s been my champion, my cheerleader. I can’t tell you how many times he’s said, “Don’t let it get you down!” when the hard knocks hit. He has always, constantly told me how much he loves me, how much he believes in me. So now, when I call him to consistently report good news about work and life, he is thrilled.

I’m finally growing up.

*  *  *

Let me tell you how much one grows up while spending the prime years of adulthood drinking reality away: Not at all. Addiction leaves no room for personal and emotional growth. Today, at nearly 12 years sober, I’m still undoing old patterns, making up for past mistakes…and…committing new ones. The difference now? I am aware, accountable and willing to take action to change.

I typically don’t spend a lot of time defending myself, because I have faith in my character. Still, I will say this:

Some may believe that my father’s current state of financial woes and related issues is all my fault. Those people can have their blame game, their misdirected anger and their battles. I’ll take no part. I know exactly how I contributed to my father’s current condition; and I now know the other factors at play. I am not the problem. I am a daughter that shows up, that accepts responsibility, that would do anything for her father – just as he did for me. Over many years of feeling that I “owe him” for giving to me so freely, I’ve taken action to serve him however possible – by sharing life with him, cleaning and cooking during visits, spending quality time, and, showing my love for him in many ways.

I have grown to feel completely at peace with my sincere efforts, and plan to continue them, along with direct financial amends, as soon as I am able. I’m saying this here, now, with all as my witness.

And that, my friends, is the end of my explanation and defensiveness about this issue. Let’s move on…

*  *  *


The Man Today, Relaxing, After 80+ Years Of Leaping Tall Buildings In A Single Bound

Have you ever noticed that, when the Super Hero swoops in to rescue the distressed victims, she or he never asks: “So, what happened, guys? Why are you in so much trouble?” That selfless hero just plucks ‘em up, no questions asked.

Over and over, my dad jumped into fires, hot water and quicksand to pull me out. He saved me – whether or not I deserved to be saved, and whether or not it was healthy for me…or him.

Someday I will tell you more about how my father positively influenced my life, my diverse cultural yearnings, my commitment to good health, my career direction and more. How he’s the guy behind my percussion talents, my yoga class music choices and my love for Washington, DC.

But the most notable way my father influenced my life? He once regretted my birth; and then he saved me from dying. And most recently – after seven months of tough truths, humbling honesty, stressful interaction and unconditional love…after coming full circle in our relationship and shedding old stories that no longer serve us – he reawakened my passion for life. Finally, I can absorb all those years that – in addition to supporting me financially – he heroically scooped me up, kept me warm and held me high.

I love you, Dad. More than I can express. You are, and always will be, my Super Hero.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all. OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Peace, Peace, Peace.

*  *  *

(Note: I read this piece to my father before publishing it; and we cried together out of love and respect. He approved publication. Also Note: Whenever I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even historically, way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)




Be My Valentine February 11, 2014

Wilco2July09It’s amazing how far from my own heart I can wander.  And not even know.  Until a massage therapist hunts me down and kindly reunites us.

“Come back to your heart, Holly.”

The heart does not go anywhere! It’s right there, in my chest; it’s right there, with my head; it’s there, around and within my home; there, all over my entire life.  ‘Tis I that roams far, far away.  So far that, when I look back, all I see is a wall on the horizon.

“Ah, yes – there’s your heart.  Let’s just put that right…back…in…here…where it belongs.”  (Says my body-worker, while chanting warm OMs into my chest).

My chest, arms, elbows and hands are still tingling from today’s massage session – when my heart and I were reintroduced.  “I remember you,” I said.  My heart just smiled and wiggled its way into my rib cage.  “Please don’t worry if I cry,” I told my brave therapist.  The sobs came.  Sobs lingering in the physical memory of my oldest heart breaks.  Sobs freshly stifled during the management of today’s repeatedly broken heart.

*  *  *

DadValentineOutside(2014)My father’s mind is failing.  And my heart is falling to pieces.  To stay on track with the tasks I handle for him?  All I can do is leave my heart behind.  To appear strong and able?  I stray away from the feelings and get lost in the to-do lists.

This approach to “managing” emotions is definitely taking a toll.  That wall on the horizon can feel definitively divisive at times.  Yet I remain devoted to my yoga, my Chakra work and my meditation, which – at the very least – keep me aware and open.

My outdoor practices rock my world.

Standing firmly near frozen swampy ground with the sun shining on my face, I inhale and envision my stability on this earth (1st Chakra), my fluidity in water (2nd) and my powerful inner fire (3rd Chakra).  I exhale and ask nature: “Please take away anything that impedes the integrity of my roots (1st), relations (2nd) and identity (3rd).  Thank you for taking this from me.”  Eventually, I feel an empowered foundation from my feet, into my legs, up through my hips and pelvis, and into my belly.

Then, I move into the heart (4th), throat (5th) and brow point (6th).  I stretch my arms out to the sides and inhale, “May my heart be filled with faith; may my voice be filled with love; may my mind be filled with clarity.”  On the exhale, I envision the faith, love and clarity being shared with the world.  I might close the practice with a few OMs, or, with some quiet time to simple observe what arises within.

I am grateful for my willingness, commitment and action toward self-care and wellness practices.  I stick with these routines despite my feeling of overwhelm from the seemingly insurmountable responsibilities I hold.  Therefore, rejuvenation and healing are always accessible.

If I was not able to feel my heart awaken during a massage session, there’d be a big problem.

*  *  * 

DadValentineInside(2014)When I came home from today’s appointment, I found a Valentine’s Day card from my dad in the mail.  The man does not miss a beat in certain areas.  I am thankful for the days when he is clear, present and able.  I am grateful for the days that I am patient, tolerant, compassionate and kind.

But loving?  My god.  It’s been a long time since I have felt “loving” toward my father.  Certainly not because I don’t love him!  Lord knows, he was my superhero growing up, and became my best friend in adulthood.  I relied on him more than a grown daughter should (although some say it was a completely normal amount of enabling that he lent me…).

And now I’m trying to show up for him.  My dad.  The love of my life.

So, to get through the times that his memory loss saddens me horribly, or his demented lashings hurt me deeply, I turn off “loving daughter” and turn on “responsible adult.”  To get through frustrating interactions with the institutions and people related to his troubles, I replace “emotional family member” with “Power of Attorney.”

I become exhausted and depleted.  My heart fades further into the distance.  And I’m not sure how long I can last like this.

*  *  *

“Hello?  Holly?  This is your heart.  I’m way over here.  Can you please come home?  Please let me back into your life, your waking moments, your dreams, your hopes, your hurts, your fears, your world.  Please – will you be my Valentine?”

“Yup.  Forever.  Yours.”  (She says, looking down at her feet, sorry that she’d ever left.)

Thanks for reading, y’all.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.


Surrender, Recovery and Death January 22, 2014

~ Paolo Coelho

This morning I am saying goodbye to a treasured DC friend, Sovani Meksvanh. Since before Christmas, I have been posting on my personal and Urban Yoga Den Facebook pages about his battle with late-stage cancer, and how touched I’ve been by his balance of strength/action and acceptance/surrender. Last night, I posted my final thoughts about this beloved soul…

*  *  *


I know that Sovani is not reading this, but his beloved family is. Your father/son/brother has always been a very special being to me. I will never forget our first social outing. Somewhere around 2005, he hustled up and down the ramps of RFK Stadium at one of the 1st Nationals games, taxing the heck out of his lungs, and putting up with my crazy baseball fandom the whole day. Over the years I’ve seen him help dozens (if not hundreds!) of people who are in recovery…from many different “ailments.” He is, to me, the perfect example of a Spiritual Warrior – one who shows up for life and all of its trials knowing that his Higher Power has simply sent him to live out a purpose more significant than his own human will, to strengthen from that ultimate surrender, and to use that strength to be of service to others.
All this time, over the past few weeks, I’ve never “cheered him on,” encouraging him to fight. Not because I want to let go of him, but because I want him to let go of fighting – I’ve wanted Sovani to give himself a break. And then there was a point where he started writing about feeling safe in His hands, and I exhaled so profoundly, knowing that Sovani finally melted into the care of his HP instead of fighting so hard…
Well, that’s how I perceived it. And it helped me so much, to observe what I saw as pure surrender and devotion.
I have been meditating and praying and crying and loving for weeks…and all of this is a tiny fraction of the support and commitment and effort that you have offered him, consistently and honorably. What an amazing family you are. I send my love and my comfort from Nashville…I wish I were there…


I dedicate this song (Te Extraño by Marta Gomez) to the strong spirit of my dear friend in DC, Sovani, whose cancer battle I’ve been writing about since before Christmas. His condition has worsened – since Saturday, he has been on life support, and today his organs started to fail.
Bless his beautiful young daughters, mother and family members who have been by his side through this journey, and updating us on Facebook the entire time – which to me, has been precious, since I moved away from DC in September. Despite the weeks of meditation, prayer, tears and love in his honor, I am feeling a bit useless. And I miss him. I wish I were there…
Bless Sovani, who – as everyone knows – has been the strongest fighter one could ever meet. I mean, he was diagnosed with cancer 17 years ago, folks. And all along, he has insisted on, taken risks with and surrendered to the most experimental and progressive treatments available. But the surrender that impressed me the most was over the past week or so, when Sovani started posting about his surrender to the loving care of his Higher Power.

Photo: Michaela Ringerson

Photo: Michaela Ringerson

So, this song is for Sovani, and, for his amazing family. Sending so much love to DC tonight, through the wind, through the cold, through the snow. 
Sometimes, for me, all love songs are simply conversations with god. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Pero te extraño hace tantos días

que las palabras se confunden con la voz
los sonidos ya no hablan de tu amor
no imaginas la melancolía que se cuela en mi ventana si no estás
y el silencio que me obliga a recordar
tantos años de vivir
toda mi vida junto a ti
tanto tiempo, tanto espacio para ti.
¿Cuánto tiempo hay que esperar?
¿Cuántas miradas recorrer,
para sentirte en un abrazo
y no verte envejecer?

But I miss you
It’s been so many days that words and voice have been confused
And sounds still can’t speak of your love
You can’t imagine the melancholy that creeps into my window when you’re not here
And the silence that obliges me to remember.
So many years of living all of my life with you, so much time, so much space for you.
How long must I wait? How many visions must recur…to feel you in an embrace…and to not see you grow old?

*  *  *

What could I add to that today? Hmmm…one thing. I am in the midst of a new phase of adult life, having moved to Nashville from DC to be closer to my soon-to-be 86-year-old father, who is struggling with dementia and increasing physical challenges. I am also deepening my relationship with my sister, from whom I was separate for decades, due to my addict lifestyle. As most of you know, I have now been clean and sober for more than 11 years. And thankfully, over the past few years, my sister has graciously invited me back into her life. She lives a bit south of Nashville, and we are teaming up to support Dad. So, this new phase is not always comfortable – but the three of us are doing our best.

My biggest challenge during this new phase of adult life? Dwelling in and acting from love and faith.

And so, to Sovani and his family, I say: THANK YOU.


Image: Journey to Peace

I am grateful to Sovani and his family for Facebook-ing their journey over these recent months; I am grateful to Sovani for always sharing about his family so lovingly; I am grateful to have witnessed the gracefulness and transparency of his daughters as they navigated this process; and, I am grateful to Sovani and his family for sharing about their Faith so openly. I have learned so much from all of them; and I thank them for teaching me the best way to step forward in the journey with my own father.

With this family’s example as my inspiration and motivation, I shall aim straight and high to celebrate every moment of this sacred life.

From Sovani’s family this morning: “After careful and thoughtful consideration of the medical team’s advice, the Family has decided to remove Sovani from life support to relieve him of needless pain and suffering. God Almighty, Our Father in Heaven, Creator of the Universe please forgive his sins and receive his Gentle Soul into Your Arms.”

*  *  *

This is my 1st formal blog since before September, and my move from DC to Nashville. The intensity and quantity of challenges that have arisen over these five months prompted me to use Facebook more often, for briefer and more expedient updates. So much has happened since September. Sometime in late Fall, I drafted an update blog called “Shalom, Y’all.” But it fell to the wayside as more important priorities – my job search, my care for dad, my general adjustment to TN and my grieving of my beloved DC – took precedence. I didn’t realize that grieving a long-time friend would also become a priority.

I am posting “Surrender, Recovery and Death” on my Urban Yoga Den blog, because I like to pass on spiritual lessons as they happen in my life. Plus, there is so much yoga in the story of Sovani’s dying days…

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “Isvarapranidanani” (there are many alternate spellings) is the 5th virtue discussed in the 2nd limb of yoga. The 2nd limb, or “Niyama,” suggests 5 ethical values to follow if one wants to live the yogic life. “Isvarapranidanani” has been described as “surrender of the self to God,” “offering everything to the Lord or to Humanity,” “sacrifice of all to the Lord”… You get the picture.

I yearn for this kind of surrender. I know it would help me when I feel frustrated with and harmed by my father – who can be quite hostile due to his illness. I know it would help me when I feel scared of losing my dad. I know it would help me when – due to such heightened vulnerability from the move, from my lack of sustaining work, from my family situation – my old core wound of being a problem rears its ugly head while dealing with my father, my sister, and others in my life…causing me to react like a threatened child.

When I look back at the peacefulness and grace that Sovani and his family portrayed through their process, I am compelled to reach deeper into my own soul for the surrender that I crave…or, should I be reaching more widely beyond my own self for that surrender? More will be revealed.

From experience, I do know this – like the 12 Steps of recovery programs, the 8 Limbs of yoga are in order for a reason. And for me, there have been many parallels in my practice of both the Steps and the Limbs.

So in this case, if I want to access the surrender I seek, I must re-commit to study and practice of Limbs 1 & 2 – the Yama and Niyama (the 10 suggested virtues). And, I must broaden that commitment to include Limbs 3-8…a process of reaching my most ideal way of living, which includes: Asana (poses), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (regulation of the senses), Dharana (single-focused concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (“enlightenment,” or in my own simple terms: when my actions and behaviors portray the intentions and virtues that I have been aiming for since Limbs 1 & 2).

I must also energize my commitment to integrating the 12-Steps into my daily life. As Step 12 suggests, I aim to practice the program’s principles in all of my affairs, in order to carry a healthy message and be of service to others.

Photo: Sovani Meksvanh (I loved his shameless selfies...especially these, while I was so far away.)

Photo: Sovani Meksvanh
(I loved his shameless selfies…especially these, while I was so far away.)

And so today, I am saying out loud: I re-commit to the deepening of my spiritual practices, so I may replace my fear-based reactions with a god-based surrender, faith and love…and therefore, act toward others with love and in service.

Let’s see how that goes (she says with a slightly mischievous, quite human and very forgiving smile)…

I’ll close with another timely parallel between the tools of yoga and recovery:
In his commentary on the Niyama (yoga’s 2nd Limb and collection of 5 virtues to observe), Sri Swami Satchidananda says: “All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.” And, in the two primary texts for 12-Step recovery, Bill Wilson and his co-writers say: “There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation and prayer. …when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life.” And, in relation to the 3rd step, which invites me to turn my will and life over to the care of god (and I’d say that’s the surrender I’m seeking!), “…this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.”

I am grateful for both of these influences on my life, and that they both led me to a very significant relationship with an amazing man named Sovani. May god bless you and keep you, my friend. Love love love.

*  *  *

HAH! In true Holly fashion, I just spent the morning side-stepping my grief…expressing it in a very structured and intellectual manner…writing, quoting, analyzing, learning, sharing…  And later, I’ll read everybody’s loving and honoring posts on Sovani’s page.

NOW, in true honor of Sovani and my relationship with him, it’s time to get messy, surrender to my heart, and let the tears flow (oh, god – even as I proofread this piece – here they come)…into music and nature I go.

Thanks for reading. And thanks for your love. OM Shanti.

{PS – Please forgive WordPress for posting inappropriate advertising at the bottom of my posts…I can’t afford to upgrade, and they need to survive!}


Love: Anger’s Remedy March 1, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.  The final word…

*  *  *

BuddhaSunspotsSo.  I’ve been getting these Ayurvedic massages.  To address the pent-up anger and stress I’ve been blogging about.

Clearly, it’s working.  After last week’s session, I could not even make it to my own front door without sobbing my face off.  The guy is brilliant: that day, in addition to his usual bodywork, he placed his warm hands on the back of my heart chakra and just stayed there for what seemed like an eternity.  I wanted to cry then, but I didn’t.  I wanted to cry later, when he smoothed my furrowed brow with Ayurvedic oils and cradled my head in his hands.  But I didn’t.  After I got dressed, he asked me how I was feeling.  “Like I need a good cry,” I answered, and headed home.  I cried my way out of his building, I cried along the sidewalk to my place, I cried up the steps to the entrance.  I had to stop to cry in the stairwell to my floor.  I practically sprinted down my hallway…busted in my door…curled up on a chair.  And cried.

This massage therapist is not just tapping into the intellectual, heady anger that I analyze, understand, explain and write about.  In the most skillful, gentle and nurturing way, he’s reaching a much deeper, organic part of my emotions.

He’s breaking into my heart.

When I stopped crying I thought, “I wish that love would always be my first response when someone is unkind to me.”  This is how I like to respond.  It’s how I’ve seen myself respond.  But for a period of time since December, most of my first responses were a dizzying blend of anger, blame, shame, self-loathing and sadness.

So I think this guy is onto something with his Ayurvedic touch.  And I’m just gonna let the tears flow.

*  *  *

Today, I’m feeling back to my normal self.  I’ve encountered unkindness, conflict and challenge over the past week or so.  I’ve responded with understanding and compassion – and, at the right times, detachment and indifference.  In addition, I’ve returned to my practice of silently wishing wellness for each person I see on the street while walking between classes and errands.  In general, I am feeling patient, positive and peaceful.

I’d like to believe that the massages alone are responsible for my shift back to center.  That caring hands resting on my heart chakra would instantly restore my softness.  Wouldn’t it be great if a “magic bullet” or “shot in the arm” were sufficiently healing?  In no way do I mean to diminish the authentically medicinal affects of Ayurveda.  The fact is, for me, healing that leads to restoration and growth requires more than one remedy.  If I want to continue bypassing synthetic medication to manage my triggers and related emotions – and if I want to avoid falling back on self-medicating – I must subscribe to a diligent prescription of wellness efforts.  When I sway from my tried-and-true influences and routines, I completely lose balance.  The “tests” to my serenity over the past two months – a string of experiences where different people have been harmful, malicious or inconsiderate in some way – would have felt less threatening and caused little (or no) response had I been aligned with my healthiest practices.

I’ve come to embrace this recent period as an opportunity to witness my reactions – or, more commonly, my overreactions (inward and outward) – and practice self-compassion.  I have been feeling enough heightened emotion and stressed energy to warrant a step back from my usual “fix it” approach, to cut myself some slack, to vent honestly and openly, and, to consider these challenges as somehow related to the intense personal shifts in values, principles and beliefs I’ve been experiencing over the past two months, as well.  I’m grateful to have this understanding!  Still, it has been humbling to see myself habitually on-edge and upset – not my usual warm, smiling self.

Growth does not always feel like a sweet explosion in the heart.

*  *  *

Earlier, I mentioned working on “pent-up anger.”

More accurately, I would say that I am working on healthily processing strong emotions – my recurring “favorites” are grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger.  (Nothing original, I know!)

Why strong, recurring and “pent-up?”  Growing up with addiction, growing toward violent environments and growing away from solutions, I spent much of my life ignoring the core wounds and root causes behind my own destructive tendencies.  In other words, I stuffed decades of grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger.  Heck, I’ve been alive for 47 years, I drank alcoholically for 25, and I’ve been sober for only 10.  So I’m still catching up on what others learned all along their lives – how to constructively manage very normal emotions.

And, I’m still healing.

Through many years of yoga and recovery practice, I have learned a lot about my history of trauma.  I have come to face and analyze my past quite sufficiently.  I know everything about my trauma.  However, self-knowledge does not avail thorough healing – my body and heart have not fully processed through it all.  This recent series of emotional triggers felt very chemical, tangible, even physical.  They revealed that I must take a step back from my primarily heady analysis, which has not addressed the deeper effects of trauma.

One friend suggested that I “get out of my head and punch things.”  I’m not likely to throw punches, but I get what he means.

I can certainly reach into the cracks of my sweetly breaking heart and coax out the tears.

*  *  *

Clearly, if I want to answer offences with healthy responses, preserve my own serenity and add to the compassion in this world, I must maintain and condition my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

This is, by far, the hardest personal transformation work I’ve done in a while.  Some days I think that I will never change, that people will never change, that the world will never change.  I want to give up and quit.  But to give in and surrender is to acknowledge that, indeed, people and the world might never change – and that I have 0% control over that.  But I do have 100% control over changing myself.  Changing my thoughts leads to changing my responses; and changing my thoughts and responses leads to changing my state.

If today I discovered all of my yoga workshop flyers taken down, I would think, “Someone must have taken it home as a reminder,” or “Maybe the shop owner needed the room,” or “Maybe another yoga teacher felt scared about his/her income,” or “I’m calling on the love of my friends to remind me that this is not personal.”  In order to keep my peace (and therefore contribute to the peace in the world), I would deliberately choose a positive, forgiving, compassionate or loving response.

Inner peace has returned, and I feel hopeful.  I had many tools to help me get here.  (* See “MY TOOLS” appendix, below.)  But I am a little tired.  Thank god for Ayurvedic massage!  More than a tool, it is a gift that allows me to be nurtured, honor my grief and weep.

Spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson says: “Healing works through a kind of detox: things have got to come up in order to be released. That is true of our personal issues, and also our collective issues. We can’t just push the darkness down, pour pink paint over it and then pretend it’s not there. We have to look at it, accept that it exists and then release it for healing.”

‘Nuff said.  Trudging on with determination, hope and love…

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

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

* MY TOOLS come from yoga, other spiritual sources, addiction recovery programs, friends, healers, and countless other resources and influences along my journey of healing, growth and transformation.  They are effective for addressing a heightened state of crisis, for balancing-out post-crisis, and most importantly, for preventing crisis.  Below is a comprehensive (and darn exhaustive!) list of “notes to self” that summarize my tools.  In essence, they all say the same thing: take care of yourself!

RothkoGreyCrop(Dec12)CALMING THE STORM:

Call Out The Troops
Cultivating a circle of embrace and wisdom calms the fire.  The unconditional support of friends, advisors and inspirations can motivate constructive action.  Recently, when I noticed that all of my yoga workshop flyers had been taken down, I called one of my best friends and said, “I am livid.”  I vented – starting the healthy process of managing anger.  Later, still in an emotional tug-of-war, I reached out further.  A friend exclaimed, “They can tear down a flyer – they can’t tear you down!”  A Facebook pal dedicated time to meditate “with” me long distance.  And I absorbed this helpful message, written to yoga teacher Elena Brower from her friend: “‘I know you fly from feeling like a speck of dust to knowing you’re divine, but in the stream in-between, the best part…is that you are sharing.'”

Stick A Pin In It
“We’re as sick as our secrets” is a recovery slogan and “Nothing to Hide” is my personal branding slogan!  Rigorous honesty keeps me emotionally and physically sober.  At my 10-year anniversary, a friend said, “We always know how Holly’s feeling; and that’s probably why she’s alive and sober today.”  Like a pin in a balloon, sharing openly deflates the problem, and makes room for solutions to flow in.

When horribly triggered by something that I’ve previously shrugged off (i.e. my flyers disappearing), I must pause to recognize that I’m in a state.  “HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)” is another recovery slogan.  Sober friends suggest keen awareness of these four states, which can cause loss of serenity, and potentially, addiction relapse.  Over the past months, not only was anger plaguing me, I was also skipping meals, eating snacks instead of nourishing food, isolating, staying up late and not sleeping well.  At a recent meeting I heard someone share that her “HALT is out of whack” – and I woke up.

Hold Your Tongue
“Restraint of tongue and pen” (or “thumb and send”) is pure brilliance.  When I feel wronged, my adrenalin is high, and healthy communication goes out the window.  It is wise to take a giant step back (or walk out the door) before responding to the harmful person.  Skillful communication – or, the realization that nothing needs to be said – will arise in time.  Writer Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Accentuate The Positive
When anger and other destructive feelings possess me, I must firmly point the mind to positive thoughts, experiences and facts.  I can list my loving, trusted friends.  I can read a thankful e-mail from a student.  I can recall accomplishments.  I must place myself in positive light.  When I told a yoga peer that I was stuck in self-loathing, he lightheartedly shared: “Something to consider: the self you loathe is not you, it’s…an illusory ‘you.’  Krishna, situated in your heart, loves the real you more than you loathe the illusion you think of as you.”  Although not a Krishna devotee, I can certainly accept his love when feeling horrible.

Give Thanks
Taking the time to meditate on gratitude is an amazing antidote for fear-based emotions.  When I dwell upon what I have, it’s hard to be consumed by what I’m afraid to lose.


Rise And Shine!
At best, I am a generous, thoughtful, compassionate person.  As well, I am a survivor of many serious violations and assaults, I am susceptible to PTSD and I am a recovering addict.  This means my best self can be challenged at times.  As one might guess, I have been evaluated by medical professionals.  As one might not guess, I have been advised against taking synthetic medication – and encouraged to continue my devoted yoga, recovery and counseling activities.  My morning Sadhana (see “Peace Tools: Morning Routine”) is like medication for me.  It guarantees excellent spiritual, physical and emotional health, and is like an insurance policy for constructive thoughts, attitudes and actions – plus, I absolutely love and enjoy it!  However, guess what I abandoned during the month of December, for various reasons?  Hmmm…

Listen To Your Body
Along with the emotional evidence of imbalance, I’ve also been suffering from digestive problems and middle-back pain: physical ailments of the 1st three chakras.  The negative emotions associated with imbalanced lower chakras are fear, guilt and shame.  Ah-ha!  This is all coming together!  In her brilliant book, “Eastern Body, Western Mind,” Anodea Judith writes: “The first thing I tell my clients or group members when they wish to develop their third chakra is to give up the attachment to being safe.  In clinging to safety and security, we remain as children – powerless and wanting the world to be shaped for us.”  BAM.  I am now incorporating yoga poses for the lower three chakras into my daily practice.

Cool Your Jets
To make matters worse (which of course, I’m prone to do, being human), I pretty much abandoned my pacifying diet in December.  According to Ayurvedic medicine, my Dosha or body/character type is Pitta, which is very fiery by nature.  Needless to say, it behooves me to follow a diet that soothes digestion and therefore pacifies strong emotion.  It also protects everyone around me!  The Ayurvedic massage has been a nudging elbow in the ribs (hahaha!), inviting me to return to what works.

Suit Up And Show Up
I have been cutting back on addiction recovery meetings.  Not smart for a girl who wants to stay serene.  The other day, a sober elder said, “In my time in this program, I’ve seen one thing unfailingly lead to relapse: not going to meetings.”  People sometimes ask why I still go to meetings after 10 years of recovery.  I plan to go ‘til the day I die for three reasons: to be in the room when a newcomer walks in; to be of service; and, to stay sober.  Period.  The program of recovery is the only thing that has kept me clean these past 10 years (after 12.5 years of trying/failing to stay sober via yoga or therapy or religion or eating healthily or whatever).  Meetings maintain my physical and emotional sobriety.

Clean House
I can’t expect to be trigger free – that would be impossible.  I can, however, enhance my well-being and therefore cultivate healthy responses to upsetting situations.  To be well, I must address unresolved emotions from past experiences.  The processes of looking back at our own actions, admitting personal responsibility, making amends, offering/requesting forgiveness, and clearing away resentments are part of many spiritual, recovery and self-examination traditions.  I first practiced taking a moral inventory as part of the Jewish High Holy Days, or, Days of Atonement, which fall in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur.  In her Yoga Journal article about the process of “recapitulation,” writer Sally Kempton said, “Whether we call it ‘confession,’ ‘karma cleaning,’ ‘wise reflection,’ or even ‘moral inventory,’ … you dissolve a lot of the sludge that you carry around in your heart.”  The focus is on admitting my part, not on blaming the other – even if they are at fault!  Although painstaking, cleaning my side of the street pays off with liberation.

RothkoPurpleGlowCrop(Dec12)WHAT TO AIM FOR:

Kill ‘Em With Kindness
Mean people rock.  They can be great teachers and motivators – if I allow them to be.  The night I was bottoming out on chaotic emotions about my missing flyers, professional baseball player Justine Siegal posted her TEDx video, “Following Your Dreams When Others Are Mean,” in which she describes, “I felt defeated, but I thought – ‘I’m not gonna let ’em stop me.’ There were some really mean things that were done and said. I decided that when others were mean, I would be kind back. And the reason for this was not because I needed them to like me. I just wanted to keep my own peace. I knew that if I let the anger consume me… I wouldn’t be able to move forward. And I needed my own peace – so I could keep that power within, to do what I’m passionate about.”  Amen, sista.  I have to remember that all people have their own pain – just like me – that causes them to act out – just like me.  When I am at my best, my natural response when I sense that someone is in pain is to wish them well.  I might paraphrase the Buddhist metta prayer, “May you be free of suffering” or chant yoga’s “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which has the same meaning.  C’mon, if I could tap into the Yoga Sutras to cultivate compassion for the guy who mugged me in 2011 (see “The Yoga of Being Mugged”), I can certainly find kindness in my heart toward these recent ankle biters.

Listen To Your Elders!
Timing is everything.  Over the past few weeks, ancient gems of wisdom came my way (via contemporary teachers):

“A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.”  By the time I read this quote from the 14th Dalai Lama, I had finally returned to this mentality.  I am again able to think kindly and understandingly toward all (most of the time…and if not immediately, promptly).  Thank god.

“The mind manifests anger when it jumps to the defense of the ego, and that sends our intelligence out the window: we loose our capacity to distinguish between the conscious self and the unconscious matter of the mind and body. We think ‘I have been offended’, but the ‘I’ that was offended is the false ego, not the real self.”  Philosophy teacher Hari-kirtana Das’s recent yoga blog, “The Art Of Anger Management,” visits a number of yogic texts for explanations of and solutions for anger – with admirable humility and hilarity at times.  Check it out.

“Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling, pierce us to the heart.  …a hardness in us will dissolve.  We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear.  …and it opens us.”  To share all that I have gained from Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” I’d have to copy the entire text here.  Trust me – read the book.

“It was only when she lost all sense of hope, that her ego had finally loosened its grip…, that her heart allowed space for the divine to enter and work its charm.”  This moment from the classic Hindu story “Draupadi’s Sari” describes when Draupadi – who is being wrongfully undressed by an evil king – releases her desperate grip on her clothing, throws her arms in the air and yells “Krishna!”  (Post-Publish edit: I neglected to tell the end of the story!  As soon as Draupadi lets go of her sari, Krishna hears and answers – the wrap becomes endless, so she cannot be neither disrobed nor dishonored!  Thanks to Hari-kirtana Das for reading and reminding!)  This harkens back to my friend’s reminder that, once we surrender our hearts to divine love, we need not fear anything.  We can let go.  In the past I’ve said, “Allowing love into my heart can sometimes be like using a jackhammer to plant a seed,” and, “Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart.”  From here on, I’d like to loosen my grip on power tools and kitchen appliances…

Make Room For Love
“Pratipaksha Bhavana,” as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is the process of replacing negatives with positives.  The Sutras do not encourage stuffing the very real troubles that come with certain challenges, but invite the mind to deliberately shift away from dark thoughts, in order to shed light on a new perspective.  From life coach Laurie Gerber: “The perfect replacement for fear is always LOVE.  May you and all beings everywhere find the strength and presence of mind to replace fear with love, over and over and over.”

(Note to self: May I bring positive and loving thoughts into my mind and heart the moment I feel dis-ease.  May I always remember that love is the remedy for anger.)

Again, thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.


Not Love: Anger February 13, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.  (Or maybe not.)

*  *  *

MinimalChairI am sooooo tired of my brain right now.

Tired of flip-flopping between compassion/anger, yoga/rawness, awakened/avoidance, should/shouldn’t.  Yesterday afternoon I was verbally attacked by someone who was obviously stressed before our encounter, poised to pounce and way out of line.  I was yelled at, insulted and shamed in public.  The person was in such a state that she could not and would not hear any reasoning or response.  Thankfully I walked away from the situation; but I headed home in a traumatized cloud.  And today I am plagued by a pinball machine of mixed emotions.

My immediate response was the correct one: Anger.  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of injustice, a high-adrenaline buzz.

I quickly collapsed into my 2nd response: Depression.  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of futility and hopelessness, a soul-sucking energy drain.

And then it returned: Anger.  A feeling of being harmed, an overwhelming sense of “F*** them,” a hardening shell.

All of this flip-flopping within 30 minutes of the attack.  When I arrived home, I mindfully addressed my imbalanced emotions.  I practiced calming Pranayama, took Bach’s Rescue Remedy and drank Relaxed Mind tea to soothe my shocked nerves.  I shared on Facebook, drafting the post and re-reading for accuracy and fairness before publishing.  I listened to friends’ opinions, expressed frustrations and absorbed support.  I gained perspective on the attack, cultivated compassion for my attacker and normalized a bit.

After teaching an evening class, celebrating Mardi Gras with awesome yogis and offering to be of service to a non-profit organization, I evolved into my next response: OK-ness.  Forgetting the feeling of being harmed, a sense of being useful, a gentle embrace of community.

But by the time I went to bed, I was restless, depressed and back in “F*** them” mode.

*  *  *

I awoke with my next emotional response: “Don’t F*** With Me.”  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of being threatened, toughening up like the scrappy little punk that I can become.  A great disposition for someone preparing to teach Sunrise Flow & Meditation at 7am!  Before leaving home, I resolved to get right back into bed after class.

The pre-dawn walk to the studio was hyper-vigilant with my heart center protected.  Yet when I arrived to greet our amazing group of dedicated yogis, I softened.  The energy in the room was sleepy and silly and sweet.  Together we centered, breathed deeply, set intentions, awakened with the sun and greeted a new day.  After class I had rich conversations with two students about their inspiring work and lives.

And again, here arose: OK-ness.  An undoing of the feeling of being harmed, a sense of presence, celebrating the beauty of humanity.

Each Wednesday morning, after the students leave, I stay to chant.  Today I repeated “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”  (may the entire universe and all of its beings realize freedom from suffering) 108 times.  It seemed like the appropriate meditation in response to yesterday’s encounter.  During the practice, these visions arose: writing a letter to the person who harmed me yesterday, apologizing for any suffering I may have caused to incite her upset with me; writing the same letter to all the people who have harmed me; telling the person who harmed me yesterday how angry I am; telling all the people who have harmed me the same thing.  Hmmmm…

The whole way home from the studio my brain was a ping pong table, bouncing from one emotion to the next.  I wanted to crawl into bed, cancel my evening service commitment, hide from the world.

Sinking again: Depression.  An overwhelming feeling of being harmed; frustration and anger and futility; and feeling exhausted.  After writing the first half of this blog, I listened to a Yoga Nidra CD then slept for a couple of hours.

*  *  *

My “normal” response to being harmed can manifest in any shade of these emotional ups and downs.  Thankfully, I have an amazing toolbox for regaining balance.  For instance, mentioned above: Rescue Remedy, soothing tea, Pranayama, sharing, gaining compassion, showing up to be of service, and so on.  At the same time, anger is only calmed with these tools.  It is not addressed, processed and released.

I’d like to improve my ability to respond appropriately, healthily and immediately to harmful situations and the related emotions.

I want to revisit my first response:  Anger.  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of injustice, a high-adrenaline buzz.  That would have been the time to wholeheartedly express my emotion.  But it’s hard for me to know how to constructively express anger.  In childhood I was conditioned to do one of two things with anger: express it inappropriately (physical or verbal rage); or deny it completely (stuffing it wayyyy down).

I have a recent instance of constructively expressing anger.  Last summer, a man I was dating revealed that he was married.  In a text message.  (!)  Response: Anger.  A feeling of being harmed; a sense of injustice; a high-adrenaline buzz.  After about two hours, I texted that I don’t want any apologies unless he is ready to tell me – in person – the whole story.  He asked me to meet him in two days.  In those 48 hours, I talked to friends and I talked to myself.  I got clear about my feelings – hurt and anger – and I got firm with my response – never to see him again.  When we met, I simply said, “Start talking.”  I listened to his story, his excuses, his apologies.  And then I let him know, strongly and frankly – yet without rage, without raising my voice and without dwelling on his faults – that I felt extremely angry, that I was horribly hurt, that our entire relationship was a lie to me and that I would never see him again.  I walked away from that encounter free and clear of anger.  Really.  Although I can recall the anger when I recall the situation, I have never felt a drop of anger toward that man since.

I addressed, processed and released my anger rather than storing it for potential misdirection or residual depression later.

As for yesterday.  Where did that adrenaline go?  I stuffed it.  I stuffed it because of that old pattern of internalizing.  So no wonder today my mind is ping-ponging between polar emotions today.

I am at a loss.  What do I do with this anger now?

*  *  *

Just after the New Year, I wrote that I would like to share less of my internal process and start writing about the solution more often.  Well, lookee here – back to my old ways!  And y’know what – I am glad.  After all, this blog’s purpose is to describe my journey honestly, and to share yoga and related resources, tools and solutions for addressing the challenges of everyday life.

I’d rather openly share my process in hopes to decrease the separation that many of us feel when our imperfect humanness baffles us, dangerously hardening our hearts and annoyingly exhausting our brains.

I’d rather reveal my messy, processing insides than project that I am beyond problems and have total command of the perfect fix-it list.  “10 Solutions for Conquering Anger and Living a Joyful Life,” by perfectly liberated Holly Meyers just doesn’t sound authentic coming from me!

I’d rather ask what works for you.  Because I don’t have all the answers.

*  *  *

Where am I now?  I am still angry.  At the same time, I am hopeful for cultivating healthy responses and emotions.  Preparing to go out for my evening service commitment.  Listening to uplifting music.  In the face of inner conflict, I must manage it.  I must show up for and offer my best to life.  Because despite periodic unrest, I still have a lot to offer.

So tell me, dear readers – how do you acknowledge, process and release anger?  Thanks for reading (and responding)!  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.  Peace Peace Peace.

(P.S. – Thanks to The Minimalists for this powerful photo that, to me, portrays the separation felt when strong emotions challenge us.)

*  *  *

How do we recognize and trust our hearts’ desires?  How can we harness the impulses tugging at our hearts, and shape them into a deeper purpose?  Join me on Saturday, February 23rd, 3-5:30pm at Quiet Mind Yoga in Washington, DC for “Follow Your Heart.”  In this Sankalpa Vinyasa practice, Holly facilitates heart-centered Asana, self-inquiry and journeying, so students can tap into the flow of their deepest intentions. Re-ignite your 2013 resolutions – or, discover a completely new direction.


Love: Yourself February 6, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.

*  *  *

BotanicalFlowersFace(July12)My therapist says that I am courageous for what I admit.  For facing my shame, my anger, my mistakes.  For requesting face-to-face communication with those I’ve hurt.  For writing letters where that is not possible…for them or perhaps for me.  For sharing my story of healing, growth and change.

Yes.  I agree for the most part.  Except here: I don’t feel brave when I admit my mistakes.  I feel terrified that the cycle of hurting others and being hurt by others will never end.  I feel concerned that I might never transform into the being I yearn to be.  And most pronouncedly – I feel ashamed.

Yet.  I am not ashamed to confess that I am working through a history of feeling ashamed.

Thankfully you encourage me.  You – the readers, the writers, the poets, the philosophers.  The yogis, the teachers, the friends, the strangers.  The higher powers, the healers.  You encourage me to love myself no matter what.  To unfailingly accept my humanness; to warmly embrace the messiness; to resolutely resign to the process; to absolutely, wildly and wholly surrender…

…to it all.

And I hope and pray that you will always love yourself this way, too.

“When you feel sad [or angry or terrified or ashamed, I would add  ~ HM], feel sad.  Be in it.  Offer it tenderness and a spirit of curiosity.  The yogi’s project is not to deny all complicated feelings in favor of forced joy, but to sit with everything human that arises and trust it will pass.  As everything always does.”  ~ Rachel Meyer, yoga teacher

Much love from me to you.  Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

How do we recognize and trust our hearts’ desires?  How can we harness the impulses tugging at our hearts, and shape them into a deeper purpose?  Join me on Saturday, February 23rd, 3-5:30pm at Quiet Mind Yoga in Washington, DC for “Follow Your Heart.”  In this Sankalpa Vinyasa practice, Holly facilitates heart-centered Asana, self-inquiry and journeying, so students can tap into the flow of their deepest intentions. Re-ignite your 2013 resolutions – or, discover a completely new direction.


Love: The Privilege of Teaching Yoga February 5, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.

*  *  *


Photo: Larkin Goff

It is a privilege to teach yoga.

It is a great responsibility to hold space for others.  For those who so courageously walk through the door, enter the room, step onto on the mat.  Who surrender themselves to be guided in this ancient tradition.

It is an outright honor to facilitate the birth of awareness, transformation, growth, intention, purpose, discipline.

I invite people to think or move or breathe or notice; I encourage, I cheer; I sit or stand or walk around; I instruct, I demonstrate, I practice.  Sometimes I pray.

This is my “vocation!”  And although I dedicate myself to mindful class preparation, ongoing trainings, regular practice, community building, yoga blog writing and other areas of this “job,” teaching yoga is not “work” for me.  The students do the real work.

Sometimes the depth of Sankalpa in the room is startling.  Sometimes the commitment to lengthening the breath and slowing down the flow makes me think I live somewhere other than Washington, DC.  Sometimes the determination motivates my own dedication.  Sometimes the closing OMs are so sweet and soulful I get choked up and cry.

My role in all of this?  To simply guide students’ process of discovering what’s already within.  Just as my teachers guide me – and, just as they prepared me to do for others.

At the end of a long, fulfilling day of instructing brand-new beginners, sharing yoga tools for big transitions with a couple who is moving cross-country, and leading an intention-setting workshop for a student’s landmark birthday…I can’t even believe that this is what I get to do with my life.  I am lucky to be in a position to pass on what works for me.  And when someone says it works for him/her, too, I am both pleased and grateful.

I love this.  More than anything else in my entire life, I love practicing, studying and teaching yoga.  Great gratitude to the inspirations, guides, teachers and unknown influences who led me here.


Photo: Larkin Goff

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

How do we recognize and trust our hearts’ desires?  How can we harness the impulses tugging at our hearts, and shape them into a deeper purpose?  Join me on Saturday, February 23rd, 3-5:30pm at Quiet Mind Yoga in Washington, DC for “Follow Your Heart.”  In this Sankalpa Vinyasa practice, Holly facilitates heart-centered Asana, self-inquiry and journeying, so students can tap into the flow of their deepest intentions. Re-ignite your 2013 resolutions – or, discover a completely new direction.


The Yoga of Heartbreak February 13, 2012

Filed under: Valentine's Day,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 5:26 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Four years ago I was dumped.  Just days before Valentine’s Day.  Right before our one-year anniversary vacation.  By phone.  And quite by surprise.

By his design, we would never speak to or see each other again.

Bewildered, unable to sleep and eat, and clawing for some sort of sanity, I made my way back to yoga.  I was practicing at home in those days – but it was an inconsistent effort.  My heart was caving in, my world was small, and I needed to surrender my well-being to a safe community.

So for the first time in years, I attended a yoga class.  And – you guessed it – I cried my way through the entire session.  I don’t remember if there were hip openers or heart openers or an emotional tone in the teacher’s voice.  All I recall is dim light, bright yellow walls, a harmonium drone and the freedom to grieve.

The space of a yoga class can feel like the security of a parent’s protection.  I am lucky that my path has safely led me to such rooms for practice.

*  *  *

2008 was not the first time that yoga hugged me through heartbreak.

I started practicing yoga in 1993.  My first style was Kundalini, and it brought rapid transformation during an era of toxic and destructive living.  So when I met my first major love of life in 1997, I felt emotionally healthy and ready for partnership.  He was a Latin percussionist like me, he lived a spiritual life like me, and he seemed open-minded like me.

So when he suddenly announced that he’d been born again as a Christian, I was blindsided.  Still, because I was in love, I prayed, “God willing, I will be a Christian.”  Yup – god willing, this Jewish-born, Santeria-chanting, Kundalini-practicing girl would be a Christian.  I prayed night and day for about a week.  But the message came clearly – I was not meant to be born again.

I broke up with him by phone, then unplugged it for the rest of the weekend.  We would never speak to or see each other again.  (Talk about Karma.)

Even though I made the decision to say good bye, I thought I would die from the pain of losing my first love.   Friends advised many remedies for broken hearts.  But the remedy that really pulled me through was yoga.  Because Kundalini yoga had empowered me to stand in my truth.

*  *  *

Shortly after the 2008 breakup, I became a certified yoga teacher.  My blooming Vinyasa practice had evolved from a dabbling home routine to a consistent, studio-based commitment; and I yearned to give back what had been freely shared with me – the refuge to be wholly human, imperfect, striving, grieving and healing while in the safe hands of yoga community.

My deeper studies of yoga added the philosophical dimension that would carry me through my next big break up in 2010.  (Yup, I just keep on trying!  Lord knows why…although, I’ve been single since this one.)

If you’ve read my blogs from June 2010 forward, you are aware that I went through an unimaginable betrayal.  After seven months of dating, my boyfriend revealed that – beginning long before he and I even met – he was under investigation for a federal crime.  He decided to tell me when his lawyer finally let him know that the trials would start soon, and he would most likely be going to prison.  (Nice of him to come clean.)

Not only did this shocking news knock the wind out of me (again), but the crime was something that I could not stomach.  I had to say good bye.

“Have compassion for the unhappy,” encourage the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  “Detach from the non-virtuous.”  In the months following the breakup, I went through phases of extreme anger, disgust, distrust and isolation.  Yet my intention was to reach compassionate detachment – not only for the sake of honoring another human’s suffering, but for the sake of my own inner peace.

And thankfully, because I was a teacher, I felt an accountability to live my yoga in everyday life as well as possible.  The responsibility to continue serving and teaching drew me out of an unfortunately familiar pain (the third big fat heartbreak) that could have sucked me away from my beloved yoga community.  Instead, I continued to suit up and show up.

*  *  *

Practicing Asana (physical yoga) has reinforced the absolute reality that life is a process, that time takes time, and that I will feel at ease if I accept, surrender to and be patient through transitions of all kinds.  Practicing yoga’s philosophies means that when the uncomfortable transitions occur by surprise, I can authentically process my pain, honestly express my humanness, and all along, continually reach out to the ideas that will bring peace.  And teaching yoga offers the ultimate refuge, in my opinion.  Not an escape, but a commitment to constantly dig for yoga’s solutions to life’s inevitable heartbreaks – and pass those solutions on.


OM Shanti, Shanti, 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.


Clearing the Obstacles August 6, 2011

I am sorry to hear your pain.  You are a wonderful human being and deserve tranquility, peace, and love.  I would suggest that you stay focused on what is good for YOU, rest will follow.  –  letter from a friend

This quote sounds like something I would say to a student or friend.  Instead, it is an e-mail that a friend just sent to me.  I know he meant to write, “…stay focused on what is good for YOU, THE rest will follow.”  Yet the fact is, if I stay focused on what is good for me, indeed, rest will follow.  And I really, really need some rest.  The kind of rest that allows the heart to remember its yearnings, yearnings to cultivate clarity, clarity to turn into action, and action to yield change.

This has been the hardest blog to write, ever.  I keep starting and stopping; switching directions; adding this and that.  Stopping.  Sobbing.  And starting again.

It’s difficult to be 100% honest, and that’s what I need to do.  It’s difficult to not shade my current negative state with the positive solutions of yoga.  Is it yogic to admit that I am in pain, and that my usual solutions seem out of reach?

*  *  *

I feel it’s time for big change and I’m starting with small things.  But I wish I could crack myself open and re-program.  – letter to a friend

Last week, on my 46th birthday, I started parting my hair on the opposite side.

Ganesha, new hair part, pneumonia and me on my 46th birthday.

Immediately, I felt like a new person.  I saw myself differently.  My eyes looked happier.  My head felt lighter.  My mind was clearer.

The weekend before, I’d hit an emotional bottom where I spent an entire day acting very un-yoga-like.  OK, I’ll say it – although I haven’t had a drink or drug in nearly 9 years, I was acting as toxic as a drunken addict.  It was not pretty, people.  Some who went through that day with me were very forgiving.  Some were not.  Some recognized that stress from recent physical illness and emotional difficulties fueled my offensiveness.  Some didn’t care, because they were hurt.  And still others (thank goodness for the others) offered amazing advice and insight – including the belief that I’m hitting a bottom because big change is coming.

So last week, after a series of Facebook posts about fighting demons, letting go and changing…I parted my hair on the other side.

*  *  *

In the past month alone, notable events forced me to reevaluate my behaviors, activities and needs, and to reignite my practices, beliefs and vision.  – August “Yoga Update” (see “newsletter” tab)

To complement my fresh hair style, I’ve also been wearing my Ganesha charm more frequently.

Not only have I felt a need for newness, but also for a strong shove of old things out of the way.  When I first started practicing Vinyasa yoga, my teacher constantly spoke of “letting go of what doesn’t serve in order to make room for what does.”  I don’t frequently pray to specific deities, but being reminded of Ganesha’s power to clear obstacles (and provide protection) has been motivating.

These days, I know I need to release many things that compromise my deepest well-being in order to create space for what cultivates sustainable, lasting inner peace.  For instance, on mornings between the full and new moons, I used to pray, “Let me let go of anything that gets in the way of your will for me.”  Regretfully, that practice has faded off…but it’s time to bring it back.

*  *  *

Hindsight is 20/20.  – popular phrase

As you might know, I was mugged in June.  Feedback on my blog, “The Yoga of Being Mugged” has been positive.  People have used words like “resilient” and “compassionate” regarding my response to the situation.  I agree, and am thankful to be someone who uses yoga and other tools to recover from and address life’s difficulties.

Now here comes the 100% honesty – because I don’t want you to think that I am responding with perfect strength and forgiveness to an assault.  I want you to know that it hurt.  I want you to know that I now walk around scared and suspicious and over-reactive.  I want you to know that my past traumas have been triggered since the mugging.  And I want you to know that I sometimes act like a jerk because of this state.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you know a bit about my painful childhood and rough road toward adulthood.  These last 18 years of yoga practice, complemented by 8+ years of addiction recovery, have sparked a journey of mending and growth.  Still, I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg in undoing 25 years of destructive patterns and related consequences.

When I look back on my life’s traumas, I see the lesson behind each one.  So why am I so stuck in the pain of the past?  Because, due to my childhood isolation and later impulse to kill emotions with substances, I did not properly process and/or grieve these traumas at the time that they took place.  Making sense of them is one thing; authentically expressing and healthily processing the emotions is a whole other ball game.

Thankfully, these days I am feeling weary from past traumas robbing me of day-to-day happiness.  I am feeling a low tolerance for anything that does not match my craving for inner peace.  I am fed up with these obstacles keeping me from my intentions to be of service in this world.

So I am willing to do whatever it takes to change.

At the same time that I am willing to let go of limitations, I am somehow holding on.  I have taken the reigns, and have been gripping them tightly.  Terrified of feeling more pain, I have taken complete control of my life.  Regretfully.  Because when I am in complete control, there’s little room for you, for anyone, for a higher power, for healthy risk, for trust, for faith.

*  *  *

I’ve been learning to drive, my whole life. – Arcade Fire, “In The Backseat”

It’s time to let someone else take the wheel.  Let go.  Change.

In the Mahabharata – an ancient Hindu text – there is a story about true surrender.

A king wants to ruin a man’s reputation, and so decides to shame the man’s wife, Draupadi, by stripping off her sari in public.  A sari is a traditional Indian dress, made from several yards of material wrapped around the body.  In the story, the king begins to unwrap the sari, and in turn, Draupadi clings tightly in fear.  She continues to use all her strength while crying to god for help.

After much struggle, Draupadi realizes that, as long as she clings in fear, there will not be space for god to help her.  Bravely, she lets go of the sari, holds her hands up and exclaims, “If you want me to face this disgrace I will accept it.  I totally trust you; my life is in your hands.”  Miraculously, Draupadi’s sari becomes infinitely long, and the king becomes exhausted.  Draupadi was saved.

The first time I read this story around three years ago, I was struck by Draupadi’s willingness to accept god’s will, even if it means disgrace.  In the margin of the book I wrote, “WOW.  I wish for this surrender.”

At this very moment, I feel that exact yearning.  Since June, I have been so racked by fear that I wake up each morning with my fists clenched so tightly that my thumbs come out of their joints.

Shifting from self reliance to accepting help takes deep work.  A PTSD therapist has been helping me work through my past so I can heal from it.  Most days, I feel quite vulnerable, like a wounded animal, backed into my protective corner.  You know what “they” say about wounded animals – don’t go near them.

But circumstances have prohibited this isolation, and demanded togetherness.  Shortly after the mugging, I came down with pneumonia and had to ask for a lot of support.  All through my birthday week, my home was filled with friends bringing fresh produce, fun gifts and positive energy.  It chipped away at my rock-hard walls of “That’s OK, I can do it myself.”

I am continuing to reach out for the company, wisdom, experiences and advice of those prepared to step into the corner with me.  Yes, when they come near me, I might act overly protective.  I might swat them away.  I might misunderstand their concern for judgment.  I might mistake their discomfort for dislike.  I might offend them.  I might piss them off.  And they might or might not forgive me.

I will, however, forgive myself.

*  *  *

Here is the hardest part to write.  In my current state of imbalance, can I honorably teach the Eight Limbs, and how they outline a simple process for taking yoga’s principles off the mat and into everyday life?  How can I share “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nrodhah” and encourage yoga as a practice for calming the mind, when my mind is far from calm?  How can I authentically pass on yoga’s tools, when they don’t seem to be working for me in this time of extreme challenge?

Or does this messy phase of life illustrate yoga’s transformation?  Maybe this is my own version of “Draupadi’s Sari.”  Maybe my wish for absolute surrender is coming true.

One thing is for certain – this is my emotional bottom, and the only way out is up.

*  *  *

My god, Holly, you got mugged and now you have pneumonia?  The universe is trying to tell you something.  – a friend

My sassy answer to this remark?  “Uh-huh, the universe is telling me that I am a tough broad who can get through anything!”  Perhaps.  That would certainly match my self-reliant conditioning.  At the same time, I’m open to a totally different point of view.  By sending me a mugging, pneumonia and related challenges, the universe could be urging me to ‘fess up and say, “Come closer to me.”

See me, accept me, love me for exactly who I am – right now.  Vulnerable, fearful, distrustful and resentful.  Wounded.  Ready to focus on what’s good for me.  And more than ready for (the) rest.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.