The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Turning, Churning & Balance September 21, 2014

“Life is to challenge you with its ups and downs. Ride over them without losing your balance.” – Sri Swami Satchidananda

What a beautiful week of teaching at my fave neighborhood studios, Embrace (Adams Morgan, DC) and Past Tense (Mt. Pleasant, DC), beginning last Saturday and wrapping up this morning. Students are so darn devoted to yoga practice! I am honored to share what’s been passed to me, and share the experience of GROWTH…which has been our September yoga class focus. Thank you, yogis, for putting your minds, bodies, inhales, exhales, senses and hearts into our time together.

Hopefully our efforts will pay off during this coming week of intense energy all around us. (And I will admit, for the sake of brevity, this is a very watered-down AutumnLeaves(Oct11)version of true astrologer’s wise accounts of what’s coming.) Tomorrow at 10:19pm EST, the Autumn Equinox occurs, signifying not only the turning of the seasons, but simultaneously, equilibrium. According to most calendars, we observe the arrival of Fall on Tuesday, which also leads into the Libra New Moon, peaking early Wednesday morning at 2:14am EST – and happens to coincide with the Sun in Libra. This combo not only signifies the New Moon’s typical opportunity for rejuvenation and fresh starts, but also, the presence of Libra’s scales, which can be tipped or balanced. Add to this, people of the Jewish faith will observe Rosh Hashanah – the New Year – at sunset on Wednesday, beginning a 10-day period of moral inventory, exchanges of forgiveness and atonement. (Author’s note, 9/22/14: Holy cr#*, how could I have forgotten Navratri, the 9-day Hindu holiday that falls within the same dates as the Jewish High Holy Days? Navratri, the celebration of the Divine Mother during the sacred shift of seasons? Navratri! Jai!)

Even if you are not Jewish, don’t believe in astrology and aren’t attentive to the change of seasons – people around us will be observing and affected by these events. With the energies of deep reflection, inevitable transition and new beginnings abounding, we can tap into the energies of balance and equilibrium for our benefit – and ultimately, for everyone’s.

In today’s morning classes, we worked very slowly…very deliberately…through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Chakras (earth/origins, water/connections and fire/identity). In my experience, during times of turning and churning, it has served me quite well to focus on these three foundational energy centers before moving into the “open heart” that yogis love to explore in classes. Who wouldn’t want an open heart? From my teachers, I have learned that a healthy, aware, “open” heart requires the support of a healthy base below.

As I prepare to travel back to Nashville for the 1st time since this past Spring’s phase of challenge and churning, I’m grateful to have spent this week sharing yoga’s powerful practices for balance, harmony, insight and heartfelt living. Thank you.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Season, Happy New Moon, Happy New Year. OM Shanti.


Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week Two January 11, 2013

Remember the “very honest letter to those I can trust” I mentioned at the end of my “Week One” blog?  The letter that would kick my butt out of paralysis?  That would smash my self-centered, ego-based fear about the part of my life I won’t reveal here?  It’s still in draft form.  Scribbled on 11 yellow sticky notes.  All stuck together in a little pile.  Over there.

RockCreekPileBranchAndFalls(Jan13)Funny thing is, despite the stall on that one action, there has been so much movement this week.  And today, the New Moon, could powerfully support my efforts to Make Room for New Energy…

The past seven days were eventful, exciting, uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking.  Overall, the New Energy was on high.  I am reminded of a W.H. Murray quote, which a friend sent to me about three years ago, when I was beginning to deliberately shape the direction of my yoga teaching journey.

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth – the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

On December 28th, I made a decision to commit to a 30-day ritual, to witness and learn and make room and live and breathe and watch.  To set a Sankalpa, an intention, a deep resolution.  So right here and now, in order to take advantage of the New Moon energy of letting go, to sustain integrity and to fully align with my dedication to Shift and New Energy, I’m going to burst the bubble of shame and fear, and admit what I’m afraid to reveal:

Being without full-time employment has brought me to dire financial straits.  It is not a pretty picture.  I know that there are many others in this same situation.  I am not alone.  The thing is…what I’m really hiding is…until recent days, I was not doing enough to find work.  I spent many, many months not applying for jobs, due to my own self-centered fears.  “I’m too old; my education is outdated; my last full-time job ended seven years ago; my career path is not linear.”  Truly logical reasons why I might not get attention from employers.  And I clung to these reasons so tightly, I wouldn’t lift a finger to look for a job.

Thankfully, around Day 6 of this “Full of Shift” process, I saw a quote from self-help guru Dr. Robert Anthony.  Although I typically run in the other direction from self-help gurus, and although I had heard this idea one-million times in one-million different phrasings, these exact words struck a direction-changing chord with me:

“Once you give up all the ‘logical reasons’ why something cannot work for you and allow your new dream or goal to enter your Subconscious, it’s an idea whose time has come.”

Since reading this quote,

  • “I’m too old” became “I have 47 years of rich life experience, I have 30 years of insightful business experience, and I have 20 years of personal transformation and development experience.”
  • “My education is outdated” became “I am excited to pursue further education, and can apply for funding based on my rich and insightful background, as well as my experiences with personal transformation and development.”
  • “My last full-time job ended seven years ago” became “My last full-time job was a 5-year success story; since leaving, I have honed my writing/editing skills as a communications consultant and a yoga blogger; I have launched a thriving part-time career as a motivational yoga instructor and writer; I have been training to work with and teach within at-risk communities; and I have been incubating my vision for a non-profit organization called Ahimsa Now.”
  • “My career path is not linear” became “Thank god, my career path is not linear; 2012 was the year of connecting those dots in very meaningful, valuable, useful ways.  Let’s rock.”

Reiterating W.H. Murray’s thought – but this time in boldface:

“…the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

I started this “Full of Shift” project (for background, see “The origins of ‘Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy’” below) toward the end of 2012, because shifts were subtly and mysteriously showing up in my encounters, my yoga practice, my heart center, my dreams.  Here we are, mid-way into this commitment; and indeed, providence is moving.

Here are last week’s “Full of Shift” Facebook posts, plus added reflections.  Thanks for reading.

*  *  *

Fri, 01/04/13. Day 8.
Not sure what I dreamed about last night, but before I went to sleep, I read yoga teacher Hari-kirtana Dasa’s blog about Ahimsa and Veganism. And this morning I awoke thinking about the similarities among the traumas created by wars of all kinds – internal, external; political, spiritual; business, crime; families, countries. And in my mind, the phrase “The Myth of the Suburbs” kept resounding, until my body started tingling. After my daily incense/meditation ritual, I again had the strong sense that something powerful is brewing (which is why I started this 30-day “Full of Shift” observation). Later, Wall1(Jan13)above my desk, this little exercise happened (see photo). And just now, I saw the Pedro Franco (of Facebook post from Michael Moore about “supporting our troops.” It’s all related. We’re all related. Little Shifts. Big Energy.
REFLECTIONS: I am a word person, so my “Vision Board” is more like a “Word Wall.”  I discovered the benefits of this visioning exercise while working in television programming a while back.  Like then, I have small tasks, larger goals, longer-term markers, future visions and big-huge dreams to attend to each day.  Using the sticky notes, I can arrange all of these in order of next steps and later attention.  Seeing it on the wall (rather than in a to-do list) illustrates that everything is connected, and leads to one umbrella motivation – the founding of my nonprofit, Ahimsa Now.

*  *  *

Sat, 01/05/13. Day 9.
Missed a day of the ritual today, y’all. Taught this morning, then spent the entire day at IKEA and Whole Foods Market. Made time for Jonathan Foust’s Yoga Nidra CD in the evening. And now, just home from an amazing dinner with a fellow yoga teacher. Good stuff. Some days are just for this. Back to incense and chanting tomorrow.
REFLECTIONS: This late-evening Facebook post was the beginning of my decay into self-centered fear about some yoga friend/yoga event stuff.  That night I ended up essentially screaming my emotional pain in a scary string of private messages.  This dark episode came from a culmination of things, namely: stuffing difficult emotions about a number of hurtful situations since around Christmas time; not keeping up with my life-saving, sanity-making morning Sadhana over this time period; and being awake much later than normal, and, on the ever potentially-triggering Facebook after a really long day.  Total melt down.  It happens.

*  *  *

Sun, 01/06/13. Day 10.
Today, it’s “Full of Sh*t: A Couple of Days of the Same Old Energy.” Thank god this whole life thing is Repetition(Jan13)about progress not perfection.
REFLECTIONS: Last night’s great ball of fire evolved into today’s regret and shame.  I cannot wait until these words fade from my vocabulary: “I admit that I overreacted and I was wrong to misdirect my pain at you.  Please trust that this was situational, remember how I have been constructive before, and know that I am aware of and in the solution for this.”  Blech.

*  *  *

Mon, 01/07/13. Day 11.
In my life, it is scientifically proven – mindful repetition of ritual works in wondrous ways. Old habits fall away; new habits emerge. However, truth be told, I have not been repeating my “Full of Shift” daily practice before dawn, nor with much mindfulness, over the past few days. Fitting it in, whenever, wherever. Hence, I am all over the place – shift owns me, and the same old energy rules. Wake up call? Let’s see what happens tomorrow morning.
REFLECTIONS: I saw this “Repetition” image after a messy weekend of human dynamics, sparked by my own neglect of the practices and routines that ensure peace of mind and therefore peaceful relationships.
Thank god for being a yoga teacher, and for reminders.  This morning, I presented “The Benefits of Yoga in Everyday Life” to an assembly of 150 pre-teens and their teachers – on their 1st day back after a long holiday break.  I lead the group through a centering exercise, to show how yoga calms mind disturbances – from excitement to worry – and increases peace and focus.  It is always a moving experience for me to witness people of all ages and backgrounds responding to the yoga “trick” of focusing the mind, body, breath and senses.  There’s that moment in the room when everyone settles into a peaceful hush…it’s amazing!  And the yoga is doing the magic, really – not me at all.
When I got home, I was certain to do my own centering, breathing and chanting.
Later that day, a friend familiar with my passion for baseball, my background teaching yoga to athletes and my current job situation introduced me to the community outreach and training director for a professional sports complex.  How exhilarating to stand on pro-athlete turf and hear the thump of a 100-mile/hour fastball against the backboard!  I had an amazing time learning about the center’s community mission.  The fog of the weekend’s mishaps started to lift as I felt myself in my element.
The same afternoon, I found words of wisdom from Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van Der Kooij: “In order to dance like Shiva, we must feel free, and freedom comes from knowing there is nothing that binds us permanently. Shiva’s dance is born out of a liberation from the fear of change.”  BAM.  Om Namah Shivaya!  I knew exactly what change I am fearing in relation to what happened on Saturday night.  Thanks, Shiva, for point my heart straight at it!
I am afraid of a change in people’s opinions of me.  I am afraid that my yoga community, my ToleratedCelebrated(Jan13)potential employers, my family, my friends are changing their vision of me, from respected and loved to worthless and unlovable.  Making up their minds that the messy truth under the yoga guise is unacceptable.  I usually share so honestly; but the longer I go without full-time work and continue managing the related stress and shame, the more I am hiding.
Acknowledgement of this fear informs my solutions for facing and transforming it.  Be honest.  Don’t be afraid of others’ judgment.  Acknowledge my beautiful, messy, eternally changing humanness.  Have faith in myself.  Give myself a big, forgiving, accepting hug.

*  *  *

Tue, 01/08/13. Day 12.
As we move toward the New Moon this Friday, and as I continue my effort toward “making room,” this is what struck me after this morning’s 108 “Asato Ma”s and incense ritual (see “Tolerated/Celebrated” image).
REFLECTIONS: Today everything became fiercely positive.  I discovered, reviewed and absorbed positive comments from, encouraging conversations with and stronger connections with objective strangers and beloved friends.  Encounters affirming my life, my approach to it, my purpose in it.  This week I have received immensely wise guidance from peers and mentors.  I have met challenges from friends, fellow writers, nature.  There have been lots of opportunities to grow, observe patterns, witness behaviors, reckon with humanity.
RockCreekPileStump(Jan13)I spent some time by Rock Creek and came upon one of those crazy post-storm piles of tree trunks, branches and debris.  I felt energized by nature, and the smooth, colorful beauty that shines from twisted, broken messes.  All part of the organic process of life.  Life.

*  *  *

Wed, 01/09/13. Day 13.
I looked up at the waning crescent moon on my way to teach a 7am class this morning. A few days ago at midnight, under a half moon, I prayed for obstacles to be taken away – “Take it, whatever it is, please,” I pleaded. Since then, indeed, things have been taken away. Debating whether that’s happy or sad news. Still, making room for New Energy, so recent shifts can lead to liberation…being useful…offering service.
REFLECTIONS: Today was a good day for positive influences on friends’ Facebook posts.  My fave: “If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.” (J. Krishnamurti)

*  *  *

Thu, 01/10/13. Day 14.
This was a super eventful, exciting, uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking week.  C’est la vie.  At sunset tonight, I start my monthly New Moon fast.  Looking forward to reflecting on these first two weeks of Making Room, as the waning moon disappears, leaving nothing but space for New Energy.
REFLECTIONS: Focusing on the positive, the strength, the connections, the  friendships.  Letting go of what will make room.

*  *  *

Today. Day 15.

This morning I awoke before my alarm, and decided to practice Yoga Nidra with a Jonathan Foust CD.  “Relaxation is the entryway to renewal and insight, and the foundation of meditative awareness,” he told me in the introduction.  So I intuitively knew this would be the right way to start the day.

Jonathan guided me to power-up my inhale, and to relax, soften and let go fully and deeply with every exhale.  Then, he invited me to begin breathing without effort.  “Notice your capacity to allow this moment to be just as it is, without adding anything to it, without taking anything away.”  After a body scan, he noted, “Relaxing…”

“Feeling who you are in the absence of struggle, in the radiance of effortlessness.”

After Yoga Nidra, I repeatedly affirmed the Real, the Light and the Everlasting during my 108 Asato Ma chants.  In the absence of struggle, I experienced the radiance of a deeply present, conscientious and self-affirming choice to stand in my truth – no hiding, no shadows, no lies.

New Moon.  Letting Go.  Making Room.  Shifting Toward New Energy.  Indeed.

Time to finish and send out that “very honest letter to those I can trust.”

*  *  *

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

The origins of “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy”

MeBloggingPracticingDay(Jan13)Over one month, from the Full Moon of 12/28/12 to the Full Moon of 1/26/13, I intend to awaken before dawn, light a stick of my new incense (a holiday gift, appropriately branded “New Energy”), practice Pranayama (yogic breathing) and chant 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” prayer (“lead me from falseness to truth, from darkness to light, from things that die off to that which is everlasting”).  As with all of my other intention “projects,” I am not trying to force a specific outcome – simply to ask how I can bring New Energy to my life, to listen to any answers, to witness the subtle yet abundant shifts of late, and to see what evolves.


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.


Focus Wrap Up: The Eight Limbs – Yama April 10, 2011

It was 10:38am on Sunday, April 3rd when I started writing this wrap up, and the New Moon hung invisibly above.

In that Sunday’s classes we wrapped up our March focus on the 1st of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Yama, or, abstinence. I extended the March focus through April 3rd so the New Moon – at the height of its energy of surrender, letting go and dissolving – could reinforce our liberation from what we might refrain from in our attitudes, our actions, our lives.

During the past month, our classes bravely began a journey of self-examination by way of yoga’s 1st limb.  For me, such exploration of patterns and beliefs is a process.  I have grown to understand that I might not be transformed within the period of one class, one month or perhaps one lifetime!  Each time I step onto the path, I am simply opening a door – maybe even just a little crack – to look inside with curiosity and compassion.  Still, this is deep work, and I try to balance intensity with restoration – during my personal efforts and our classes.

In his commentary about Yama (and Limb #2 – Niyama, or observance) in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda says: “These points are for whole-time, dedicated Yogis; and so, for them, Patanjali allows no excuses.  For people who aren’t that one-pointed toward the Yogic goal, these vows can be modified according to their position in life.”  So rather than introducing the Sutras’ list of five yogic abstinences (non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-greed), I invited students to cultivate their own, personal Yama.  Toward the end of the month, we considered the official Yama from Patanjali’s ancient guidance.

Along with students, I cultivated my own personal Yama based on my “position in life.”  And the position I’ve been playing for most of my life is…


Last week, I squarely faced the huge deficit this role has hollowed out of my heart, soul and life.  Ugh.

What happened?

A number of things.  I’ll skip the long story about childhood and other traumas leading to the necessity for self-defense.  If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I am devoted to looking backward in order to move forward with health.  You might also remember that just last summer I was blind-sided by a serious betrayal that erased all my trust in humans.  My heart was on lock down.  In my yoga practice, with professional counsel and through other spiritual practices, I started to open back up.  More recently, during the Off the Mat Into the World leadership intensive in early March, I revisited my bruised little heart and noticed that it did not feel so safe after all.  It was still in defense mode.  Again, I re-committed to the process of looking inside, taking action, sparking transformation.

But the biggest eye-opener happened last week.

I went through a breast cancer scare after a doctor’s examination.  Thankfully, at the radiologist appointment a few days later, I found out that I do not have cancer.  During those in-between days of fearful anticipation, however, I contacted family and spent a lot of time with friends for support.  Knowing me as well as she does, one friend reached out her arms and said, “Put your hands in mine.”  I did.

Then she told me, with resolve in her voice, firmness in her stance and steadiness in her eyes,  “You are going to be OK.  And you will not be alone.”

I felt my entire body seize up in defense mode.  My stiffened hands could not hold on.  My eyes could barely meet hers.  When I did look her in the eye it was through a hard plate of glass.  I could hear her words but not feel the sentiment in my heart.  I wanted to believe her but could not.  I could not trust for fear of being betrayed again.  I could not accept her love.

What’s the big deal?

If I don’t allow myself to accept love, I will never feel loved.  That’s it in a nutshell.  I don’t think I need to go into the specifics of how humans need to share love; how vulnerability is essential to trust-building; how risk-taking might be the only way to true intimacy.  The fact is, if I don’t take action to continually and consistently address, transform and heal the core wounds of my heart, I will continually and consistently struggle with every relationship in my life – at work, in family, with friends and otherwise.

Realizing this last week, I set a deep intention that will bring purpose to my Eight-Limb work in the coming months.  A Sankalpa.  My own personal Yama:

I aim to abstain from fear-based responses to life’s invitations for connecting, trusting and loving.  I will liberate my icy-cold, walled-up, scared little Anahata Chakra through heart-opening Asana, heart-expanding Pranayama and Bhakti-influenced practices.

Some wounds are hard to heal.  But for the sake of Ahimsa (non-harming – the 1st Yama from the Sutras), I am going to non-harm myself by taking the risk of being vulnerable.  No holds barred, I am rolling my shoulders back, breathing deeply and chanting my heart out. I am abstaining and refraining from, letting go of, dissolving, and surrendering fear.  Damn-it.

Why abstain?

As mentioned in the Intro to this month’s focus, I want to offer my best self in service to the world.  That is what Samadhi (yoga’s 8th Limb) means to me – an interconnectedness that dissolves separation, invites love, cultivates trust.  So in the end, I don’t want to heal my heart so I feel better – although I’m sure that will be a benefit!  In the end, I want to liberate my heart so I can serve others with authenticity, strength and sustainability.

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


Focus: Abundance – Growth December 10, 2010

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist

When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.

So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.

Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.

Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!

You must know that you can swim through every change of tide.  – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.

It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.

Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.

So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.

I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.

Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer

Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood.  My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness.  Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god.  I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection).  At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment.  Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.

Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music.  I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles.  I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles.  And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.

My parents are not to blame.  The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had.  As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me.  Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.

I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life.  Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity!  Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma.  My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans.  That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time.  This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.

Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher

For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others.  I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better.  Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.

Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns.  Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.

Our December focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past.  All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.

Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity.  At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens.  Sometime life throws some curve balls.  And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.

I was hit by a pitch this past summer.  The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding.  Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone.  I lived in fear.

Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock.  I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.

Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).

Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist

At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again.  I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions.  He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.

While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Polarity Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Polarity Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs).  It was subtle and yet powerful!

With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it.  On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter.  Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.

I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time.  Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.

Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience.  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder

Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered.  This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness.  It was tough.  I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows.  I could feel my entire body vibrating.  Tears flowed.  I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing.  But I knew I needed to stay in the process.

Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter

This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past.  It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.

Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically.  One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again.  I’m just not there yet.  But I will be.  I will bounce back.

You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer

To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs.  But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.

Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life.  You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.

I am scared. And I am growing, too.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.