Check Your (Yoga) Privilege!

Image (c) Tilman Brembs

Yoga, you may know, was originally invented and then practiced by men in India only. Roughly 5000 years ago (numbers differ, depending on whom you speak to), here were these Indian guys, experimenting with breath and bodily contortions and examining how all these manifested in their bodies and, eventually, in their lives. I often imagine them lingering in various poses, noticing stuff like, “hey, if I breathe in, I get all this volume in my chest and then when I exhale, my belly goes in. Interesting! Why don’t I slow this down, lift my butt, like that dog over there and call it exactly that: downward-facing dog!” Brilliant! Yoga was born.

When yoga finally took over the West (again stories vary as to who brought it from Maharishi Mahesh Yoga, Yogananda to Yogi Bajan), it changed the demographics entirely. Suddenly all these Western women were practicing and democratizing the tradition. Yoga aspired to be an egalitarian movement for the masses and there’s rarely a day I don’t see somebody armed with a yoga mat, walking past me in the streets of most major Western cities. Yoga is for everybody, so the claim. Or is it..?

When I open my Instagram account and browse through my feed, I might get a very different picture (or several). A visit to my local yoga studio, or any of them, also speaks to a slightly different truth. It’s still mostly women. These women, however, seem to share a lot of the same traits: Young, caucasian, super-bendy, on the skinny side of the spectrum, educated, academically inclined, in the middle-to upper socio-economic strata, stylish brands, powerful yoga jargon.

Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. I mean, heck, I fit some of those descriptions rather nicely! And God knows, I need my yoga just to put back the human in being! But as I’m sitting there in my wannabe lotus pose and opening my third eye, my other two eyes take in a rather homogenous picture. I wonder where is the “older” woman, the non-white teacher, the can’t-reach-his-toes John Doe trying to catch a break. They’re not here. Why is that? There are many possible explanations but one dominates for me:

Yoga reeks of privilege. Practicing yoga signals to the rest of the world: You made it. You’re not just successful (that’s so nineties). You’re spiritual! You’re on a retreat in Tulum and you’ve obviously done something right or you wouldn’t be there, would you? More importantly, your life (and body weight) is under control. Yoga makes you happy but when it doesn’t, there’s a 50-dollar essential oil for that. You are just going with the flow because you’re rocking that firefly pose. Yoga makes you bend, where others break. Life’s not all that hard because you discovered yoga.

So when big&tall John Doe, grandma Doe, or single-mom-working-three-jobs Jane Doe finally find the courage (and time) to enter a hip yoga studio, all they see, is nothing. Nothing that reflects they belong here, that there is room for whatever about them doesn’t reflect the yoga happy-go-lucky mainstream.

Isn’t that just such a shame? Here we’ve been handed this incredible tool but again, only the “chosen” ones get to use it because marketing, feel-good catch phrases and elitist imagery are spoiling the fun. How do we fix this? Not sure but maybe it’s time to guerilla up the yoga world already. Let’s be more honest about our struggles, let’s put some other faces on yoga brands, and go where no young, skinny, etc. woman has gone before! The truth is, Yoga IS a privilege! I feel privileged to practice and teach yoga but to me, that is where privilege should end. What do you think? What’s your yoga environment like? Lemme know in the comments below!

Communities or Relationships

You may be thinking: “Wait, what does that mean? No romance, no butterflies, finally finding true love? That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun!” You may be right and I get you. But let’s step back for a moment..

These days the headlines could really have you concerned: political unrest, international provocations, and still no globally binding commitment to limit CO2 emissions. Every day, there seem to be reports of extreme climates, terrorist attacks, refugee crises. It’s scary out there and what could possibly be better than having a strong partner by our side to hug us when we feel scared and warm us on a lonely night? Well, actually, there may be something…

Think about it: finding a great romantic relationship can create a lot of pressure (dare I say, fire!). These days we’ll try all sorts of apps, venues, events, just to meet somebody (not to mention the even crazier stuff we do to make it last!). Apart from the fact that we are going extreme distances to find proximity, why are we putting all our eggs in one person’s basket? Not only is it unfair to the other person to project all of our expectations onto them. It’s also a little bit, um, I want to say insane.

We don’t apply to just one college. We don’t have just one friend (hopefully). We don’t read the same author over and over again. Yet here we are, pledging lifelong allegiance to just one person. He or she will make all our pain go away, our troubles seem small and all our fears disappear. That seems like risky business to me. Actually, speaking from my personal life, it has been risky business. The rebuilding that had to take place after my two major relationships failed was so painful, I didn’t think I could reside in this body for much longer. My grief seemed so plastic and permanent that I thought it had taken on a body of its own-inside mine. With the loss of my respective partners, I had lost my one true confidant, my lover, business advisor, my family, in one case the father of my child, future dreams and hopes, comfort, shared vacations, my home, my identity in some ways. Besides having to overcome pain, deceit, anger and fear, my whole life had been turned upside down. Whom do you turn to, when all these people–rolled into one partner–are gone? If you have one, you guessed it: your tribe.

During these times of self-loathing, lack of confidence and the complete inability to imagine a life without my partner, my friendships deepened and grew more meaningful than at any other time in my life. I no longer just spent an hour in-between with them, I spent 3, or 5, or more. We had meals together, worked alongside each other in coffee shops, shared the books we read, called each other late at night or just stayed over all together. The bond between my friends and I became so strong that I couldn’t imagine how I had voluntarily lived any other way for so long. Suddenly, I realized, I had treated my friends and my family like auxiliaries to my relationship! Someone you meet when you’ve got time in between or when your spouse is out of town. Here was this whole community of people united in their love for me and I had all but ignored it. Once I became aware of it and steeped in their love and care, I started to think of communities in a larger way. Communities unified by a political or social cause, religious or secular, a shared identity, national, global,…There are literally no limits.

What if we all thought of ourselves, not only as individuals but as human beings who–when we examine our true nature– are willing, able and highly capable of making connections among each other. I want to go further and say we need these connections, physically, spiritually and cognitively. Here we all are, swiping left and right, mangling ourselves through first dates and wondering where on earth this soulmate is hiding, when actually there are all these friends, causes and groups we may very well connect with sans the whole dating dance.

Why did advertising and the digital universe catch on years ago and start re-purposing the word community? Because it is heartwarming? Yes, very likely. But also, because it is a way to organize our lives, to create synergies, find jobs, create a sense of belonging and safety, home and purpose-all with a personal touch. Communities last long after some of our partners have come and gone, after our children have moved out, our parents have passed on. They can become a network of lifelines when life delivers the unexpected pain and joy!

In the field of neuroplasticity it has now become known that we rebuild and rewire our brains well into adulthood and old age. We are absolutely able to continue learning and reinventing ourselves. I believe the same is true for our relationships. If we keep using our natural ability to bond, the bonding keeps happening. There are bonds that break, of course but when we have a community of people, there is strength in numbers, much more than there is in the number two that makes a couple.

In Berlin, where I live, I have been hearing a lot about polymorphous relationships, where the couple as such is also “coupling” with others. Personally, I’m not sure I can imagine it (I’m a little lazy about the logistics, I’m guessing!). There are also now several models, where different generations of neighbors arrange to live in the same house with each other, thereby, creating an extended family you actually want to spend Thanksgiving with! Whichever model we choose, there are countless roads to building sustainable relationships outside the box of the romantic two.

And you know what the funny thing is? Those trusted communities might be the best place to find romantic love when you’re not even looking (or swiping). After all, who knows you better than your tribe and so, can introduce you! Added bonus: there’s also been research stating that couples who cultivate friendships outside their immediate relationship last longer-less pressure for the relationship to provide all the answers maybe. Of course, none of this is historically new. This is how we used to live and thrive. So, perhaps it’s time to return to our tribes…now that I think about it, it might make for less scary headlines too. Just a thought. Let me know yours in the comments below!




Easy Mantra

You’ve heard of mantras. In fact, I am willing to put money on it, that you’ve already practiced, like, thousands of them. Perhaps it went something like: “Must not eat so much sugar at this birthday party. “Will not yell at my 5-year old for redesigning the tapestry”, “stay calm, even if that guy cuts you off in traffic”. That’s right, telling yourself over and over, not to lose your sh*% is a mantra. See! You’ve done it already and you had no idea.

But maybe you’re still not much into mantras? You’ve tried a few Sanskrit lines that sounded foreign and not all that accessible. Or, perhaps, you grew up with a religious background and any kind of vision of rocking back and forth, reciting something from a holy script weirds you out? I hear you. But if I may:

When I first started very short, so-called Japa mantras, I just did so because my own yoga trainer suggested it. I didn’t really “get it” at first. But after just a few days, I would notice that while I recited the mantra, it was easier to get out of my head. If, for example, you find silent meditation really hard, mantras are a great way to come into a comfortable silence that often follows right after reciting them. It pulls your whole body into the task and there’s very little room for other thoughts or even doubts. Mantras draw us into a meditative state automatically and almost effortlessly.

Still not convinced? Well, here comes your easy step-by-step guide to finding the right mantra practice for you:

Keep it simple: your mantra doesn’t have to be a long, convoluted Sanskrit piece. Go for AUM or OM Shanti first, something familiar and not too “out there” in terms of pronunciation and complexity. I will nevertheless say that sometimes a foreign language can help because there are no preconceptions or negative associations attached to it.

Keep it real: if citing Sanskrit makes you feel silly or like, you crossed over to THAT land, where people drink nothing but green tea and only greet each other with “Namasté”, just switch to your own language: “I am whole” or “I am strong” or even simpler: “I am” are perfectly good mantras to follow.

Keep it focused: try to stick to one idea. I mean, saying to yourself: “I trust in the universe and may all sentient beings trust in the universe and may we all be happy and healthy”, are all wonderful thoughts. They’re also a bit of a tall order, when you want to stay on message and unambivalent in your goal. A simple “may all beings be happy” is really all you need on many occasions.

Keep it strong: state what you want, not what you don’t want. If you’d like to feel healthier, phrase it positively. So instead of saying: “I don’t want to be sick anymore”, rephrase it: I am healthy. Stating it this way, like it’s already happened, has the added benefit of making it real in that ego-driven mind of ours that thrives on the idea of “Oh, no, you’re not”.

Keep it fun: finally, find some nice tunes to go along with your mantra. There are so many different renditions of all the traditional mantras, it’s fun to practice with different melodies and see which ones stick. It also makes different regions in your brain work together. Who, knows, that might just be the trick you need to stay with it.

What are some of your favorite mantra practices? Let me know in the comment section below!

Yoga Doesn’t Work

Sometimes we feel, we’re doing the yoga, we’re meditating, maybe we know the do’s and don’ts of yoga (Yamas and Niyamas) and yet: we still feel like lashing sometimes, skipping practice, or plain don’t know how to break with our patterns. Do not fret-it’s normal! Here are some little ways to leave yourself alone already!

1.I’m bad

If you, like me, were brought up in a religious household (Christian in my case), chances are you’re really good at guilt-tripping á la “I should be doing Yoga right now..”, “Why can I never stick to a routine?”, “I’m so lazy.”, etc. STOP with the guilt already! Yoga shouldn’t become another item on our self-flagellation to-do list. If we’re guilty of guilt-tripping instead of enjoying the benefits of yoga, or the times we do manage to get on that mat, what’s the point?

2. Die Hard

Yes, according to those wonderful teachers and philosophers who came before us, such as Iyengar, Patanjali, Yogananda et al, there are many many rules and regulations of how yoga should be practiced. These have their value and there are good reasons they were passed down from generation to generation. After all, if everyone’s just doing their own thing, we could just hit the club and dance our booty off. (I’m hoping you do so often!) However, these laws came into being in different times in a very different and somewhat austere culture and the reason Yoga has taken over the world is not its rigidity but its very democratic nature of including every BODY and every lifestyle. So find yours and om with it. No disrespect to Iyengar but if you look at some of the asanas in his book…um…ouch!

3. How do I look?

This one’s kind of self-explanatory. Comparing ourselves to other teachers or students is a real party-pooper. Decide who’s life this is and make it so!

4. Am I perfect yet?

Yes, we should know our asanas well and pay attention to anatomy, or the instructions our teachers give us but after we’ve done all that, let’s get real: if we all have different bodies, chances are we’re all going to look different when we practice. So if you feel like your Warrior III resembles something of a dying Swan, so be it. That is YOUR Warrior III and as long as you feel good and nothing is hurting or pinching, why not?

5. Mirror, mirror

The way we approach our yoga practice is a pretty good indicator of how we practice life. So you’re impatient, bored, work yourself too hard or having a hard time keeping your concentration on your breath. Hmm, how’d that happen? Separating life off the mat from our yoga practice is almost impossible. You know how art imitates life sometimes? Yup, that goes for Yoga too. Whatever bubbles up during our practice most likely mirrors our lives in general as well. Isn’t that annoying…and great?

So let’s make a pact to leave ourselves the heck alone, for a moment, for a day…what say you? What are some of the things you get stuck on in your yoga practice? Would love to hear from you in the comments section below!

You Teach Yoga For Men?

Ricardia Bramley Yoga

Hi, my name is Ricardia and I’m a yoga teacher. That in and of itself doesn’t usually come as a great surprise when I meet new people. When they hear of my target group, however, their faces change from somewhat interested to curiously amused. That is because I have – accidently – specialized in teaching men-only classes. The avalanche of questions that has ensued over the years, ranges from weird to hysterically funny. So I thought I’d share a small portion of the funniest things people say to me.

Do you Dress Differently?

I wonder what people imagine? Maybe they think I slip into a leotard and hop around the studio like the little Energizer rabbit, you know, 90’s step-class style! Or the opposite is the case: I annihilate whatever traces of femininity there are, so the students don’t get too distracted? The answer to both is no. Neither do I dress up particularly eye-catching, nor will you find me in a full-blown Burka. I look like any other Western yoga teacher on this planet.

Wouldn’t it be better if a Man Taught a Men’s Yoga Class?

Well, no idea, would it? Is a woman better at teaching art classes? Are men always the better mathematicians? Is it 1950 and no one told me? Truth be told, after a very short while, I just became one of the guys. One time they even asked if I cared to join them for a post-yoga beer. They tell me about their families, work, even how they catch themselves secretly doing small yoga moves during meetings and conference calls. The gender thing actually only came up once at the very beginning when I told them to place their hands on the floor for cobra. I believe the exact location I mentioned was next to their breasts instead of their chest. That did make for a good laugh.

So, are you, like, more the Dominatrix or maternal?

I have to say that one had me laughing so hard, I needed a moment. I truly never thought about what “role” it was that I would have to take on. I always saw myself as somebody who still has a lot to learn, so, in the meantime, I teach what I’ve learned so far. I don’t think I give the kind of care that comes across as maternal. I have my own children already! I also don’t tell the guys to “drop down and give me twenty”…and the only accessories I incorporate are blocks and straps!


Be sure to check out my upcoming sequences just for men. This one’s great for beginners and advanced yogis, since we’ll be focusing on those areas that are important for the dudes in our lives such as necks, shoulders, hamstrings. Oh, and no, you don’t have to be super-bendy or super-Zen to join. I can’t guarantee that either of those may not happen though. See you there guys!


6 Great Meditation Hacks

Some yogis will, some yogis won’t. A regular meditation practice, even after years of having a yoga practice, isn’t always easy. I myself can get rather creative when it comes to skipping practice. Wanna know some of my favorite evasion thoughts? “My knees hurt when I rode my bike today, so I won’t be able to sit on the floor. I’m hungry. It’s too bright outside. I need to call my mom. Construction work at this time of day?” You name it, I’ve used it.

But why? After all, when we meditate, we often have the best ideas, our headspace feels less cluttered with old, repetitive thoughts and afterwards, we probably go about our day with more purpose and patience. So why is it so hard to get started or even stick to a practice? I thought about this (again, probably during a meditation) and examined all the things that made meditation harder both in the beginnings but even today occasionally. Here are some remedies to cure the meditation blues.

1. Have a Seat
When I teach beginners’ yoga, I spend the first 15 minutes getting everybody to sit comfortably on the floor. This process can require quite a bit of rearranging, building, shifting this way and that. Especially men tend to find it extremely difficult to sit cross-legged and/or on the floor. So we slide blocks under their knees, try hero’s pose (sitting on your heels), even stack several blocks, so there’s more freedom in the knees and hip flexors. What I’m trying to say is, find that seat! Take as much time as you need. Take a chair! I don’t care if you have arthritic knees or ants in your pants, there is a seat for you and once you find it, you’ll be able to maintain that position.

2. Blinded by the Light
This one is just too simple. If you, like me, live in a part of the world where summer daylight hours range from 4 am to 10 pm, it can get quite bright out there (not to mention if you’re living in Scandinavia!). So grab that sleep mask or a comfy shawl and cover your eyes. Or if you find, keeping your eyes closed is just too difficult, sometimes even giving you a headache, just keep them a slight bit open, thereby relaxing fluttering eyelids.

3. Pencil me in
If you and your partner, family, work staff share the same calendar, why not make it official? Talk about social accountability, here’s a great way to broadcast that you are going to commit to a meditation practice. After all, we pencil in doctor’s appointments, dinner with friends, child care. Why not our meditation time? Set a reminder while you’re at it and never forget to take that time for yourself. Adding this time slot to your ical or outlook has the extra benefit of scheduling the practice at the same time every day, which will also make it easier to establish a suitable meditation time that fits your daily schedule!

4. Carry a Tune
What if I just can’t stand the sound of silence or I live in a crowded or loud neighborhood? Do not fret! There are so many meditation apps out there, where shall I begin? I like Calm, where you can take your pick of different nature sounds and sceneries. Insight Timer is also handy. It allows you to time your meditation, pick interval sounds to let you know where you are in between, and gentle sounds (I like the singing bowls), to end the meditation. A student of mine suggested Headspace, which has fun graphics and lets you meditate on certain areas of your life, such as relationships or anxiety. What he likes about it, is the fact that there wasn’t too much “spiritual stuff” as he liked to put it. Lastly, let’s not forget Spotify, which has a sheer endless bouquet of meditation and Chakra/Healing Music as well as famous Yoginis’, i.e. Tara Stiles’ favorite playlist! If you use your earphones, even better to shut the world out for the time being.

5. Guide your way home
Many times, especially as beginners, we’re just not sure yet what we’re meant to be doing or maybe we’ve already taken so many meditation classes, we’re starting to get confused about which ones are right for us that day. Again, coming back to basics, is the way to go. Find a guided meditation. Check out your app store for countless free apps, visit your favorite yoga blog for inspiration or find podcasts by the spiritual teachers you follow anyway! I like some of Gabby Bernstein’s “Letting go” and “Forgiveness” material, for example. Also, the Kundalinis feature a whole bunch of invigorating, more active meditations. They’re just a YouTube click away! If you want to record your own voice on your voice memo app, some of my favorite meditations for the big stuff in life (and death) can be found in Stephen Levine’s book Healing into Life and Death. Finally, some great ways to use our smartphones!

6. Repeat after me
Before you decide a certain technique really isn’t working for you, give it a few days. In many yoga traditions, yogis find that sticking to a ritual for at least 21 days, is the way to break ourselves into new habits. Think about it, the most comfortable pair of jeans, didn’t become that by being worn once or twice, then getting tossed into the Oxfam bag. No, we wore those things mercilessly, over and over, washing them (or not), driving, traveling, sitting anywhere until they felt like a second skin.

Before they become part of our tradition, we need to practice rituals for a while. If after, let’s say, 21 days you still feel the technique just isn’t doing it for you, find something else. Or, maybe, come back to the good ole’ focusing on the in-and exhale for a while.

Feel free to share in the comments below, if these tricks were helpful or maybe you have some of your own hacks and apps you’d like to share. Lemme know!

40 and Lovin’ it!

It was my birthday and I was turning 40. In the months following up to my big day, I did have the occasional harrowing thought: “Whoa, 40? That sounds awfully like middle age!” Or: “Shouldn’t I have been somebody by now?”

Even my well-wishers somehow seemed to forget to wish me well and went straight to: “So, how do you feel?” “Are you ok with it?”. One, admittedly much younger, friend asks: “So is this when menopause starts?”

You’d have thought I had just come down with a permanent disease rather than reached another milestone. Sure I took stock, asked myself where to from here? Did I pursue my dreams or give up too soon? But I also thought, do I want to go back to 30? 20? Absolutely not! Truth be told, I felt relieved in many ways. Here are some of my best reasons why:

1. At 40, looking younger than Miley Cyrus when she was still Hanna Montana is not an accomplishment, it’s a race without a finish line.
2. Life is not about how much we have achieved but how much we have survived and still emerged optimists.
3. Younger women are not necessarily happier women.
4. A change of scenery may take us around the world. A change of attitude at any age takes us anywhere.
5. Comparing ourselves to that female CEO, with 3 kids and 5 published books is absurd. Just because somebody is female, my age, shares other similarities with me, does not make her ME, or a more perfect version of me. We each have our own path.
6. All that talk of the pursuit of happiness has us constantly looking to the future, or yearning for apparently happier days long gone. In the meantime, we’ve turned 40, life continues minute for minute without our presence. Let’s stay here and enjoy!
7. If it is change we struggle with, let’s stop and think: how often did I end up feeling grateful for that change? Possibly more often than not.
8. If we can’t laugh about it now, wait. Try again when you’re 40.
9. Mom is always right, especially at 40.
10. We’ve made tons of mistakes, we’ll make tons more. Don’t explain. Don’t apologize. We’re 40-something now. We own this.

Yoga in Bali? Do I Have to?

A few days ago, I got back from a short road trip through Eastern Germany. We had decided to rent one of those iconic VW buses and hit the road, yoga mat, guitar and back pack on board. With an old bus like this, the journey really becomes the destination because, well, you’re just not moving any faster than 50mph, a little more when you’re going downhill!

In between, we posted our locations on facebook. If you followed those, it became obvious we weren’t going far and we certainly weren’t visiting much sought-out travel destinations. One of our friends commented in jest: “ Wow, you guys sure get around!”

It was a comment like thousands of others on social media but it did get me thinking: Why do we always seem to have to go far away for it to be “postworthy” or “something to write home about”? Is it because having money to travel is a status symbol? Is yoga in Bali more liberating than Yoga in Berlin? Do we need to escape our everyday lives so badly that only tens of thousands of air miles will do the trick? Maybe it is a combination of all of these things. But here are a few reasons why it doesn’t always have to be palm trees and sandy beaches to be a great yoga practice.

Sandy Beaches
Ok, let’s check out of Hotel Faraway for a moment, shall we? Have you ever practiced yoga on the beach? It can be a wonderful experience, agreed! But, it can also be a bit of a pain in the …, um, wrists for example. The uneven ground offers very little support for prolonged arm balances or even a solid Down Dog. I often found myself patting the sand into the right shape, so as to be able to achieve some sort of balance or stability in the pose. It must have looked rather weird, as a small group of people started to stand up to see what I was doing! Additionally, if there is any wind, you’re constantly busy unfolding or rearranging the mat while trying to keep at least some of the sand off the mat or out of your eyes. Kinda hard to stay focused, while battling the elements but, hey, some of us, do enjoy the extra challenge I suppose!

Same Same, not different
I’ve been lucky enough to practice yoga in some beautiful, lush and green surroundings – sometimes. It’s nice practicing in warm weather, where my body is more forgiving of the cold climates I have subjected it to and my heart and soul seem to grow in size. As much as I can, I try to get out there and do so. However, if you, like me, live in a climate zone whose summer temperatures are a hit-or-miss game and whose winters seem to last for-roughly-ever, you might not often have this opportunity. Add the fact that we only have a certain amount of vacation days per year and we realize, “oh, well, yoga at home it is”. Yes, the cold is an added challenge. After all, Yoga was created in the humid-warm climate of India. But, is the Yoga itself any different? Are people practicing in far-off lands automatically happier than we are? Are the benefits of their yoga practice greater than ours? Hmm, probably not, because to quote the unbeatable Jon Kabat-Zinn, “wherever you go, there you are”…and all that baggage you brought just gets packed into the suitcase along with your sunscreen and Deet.
National Trust
If nothing else, Yoga is whatever we bring to it. The more honest we can be with ourselves, the more our Yoga practice will be able to break us open and help us unlearn all the stupid myths we either were told or have been telling ourselves for years. What could be better than making this journey of discovery in a place you feel safe in? In fact, practicing in our own country or surroundings allows us to trust and, therefore, to let go more easily. Think about it: There is no hassle to organize shelter or to find a hot shower and you won’t be wondering whether the street food may or may not give you a stomach bug. It’s just you, your Yoga and a hot shower whenever you need it.

So when you find yourself staring at Instagram pictures of yoginis in bikinis again, grab your mat (and a beloved girlfriend!) and find a new studio (hot yoga anybody?) or engage in some heat-building Kundalini warm-ups beforehand and get your own hot yoga on! Maybe make a weekend of it and hit the road to some nearby places. You’ll be surprised what you’ll discover just around the corner.

Yoga and Heartbreak

Like everything else in life, yoga is easiest when we’re happy, right? We feel fluid, our heart opens effortlessly and even if things, let them be asanas, aren’t working out that great, we can handle that. Who cares? Life is great and so am I!

But what if we’re not doing so well. And what if it isn’t the „small stuff“ we’re sweating? What if we’ve been really hurt, we’ve lost somebody or a relationship ends? What can we do when our hearts have been broken open and seem to have poured out for everybody to see? How do we handle all this vulnerability and rawness and still dare to “look within” and stay connected? There are no quick fixes, to be sure, but maybe there are some strategies. Here are 5 that just very recently, I myself incorporated. I may not be healed yet but these tools continue to work for me:

1. Writing Meditation
During the very first few days of this rough patch, I tried to meditate. I would sit down for my usual time and begin my silent practice. Several silent mantras came to mind, left again. I couldn’t settle on a single one, started fiddling, my seat became unbearably uncomfortable and the sadness I felt, was overwhelming. It was then I realized, it wasn’t going to be the usual spiel. After all, something big had happened and it required more dedication, or “digging in”.
I’ve always felt writing to be therapeutic. So, I got out my journal and started jotting everything down that came to mind-and heart. It took on a feverish action and I just kept going and going and when 8 or so pages were filled, I dropped my fountain pen and felt I could face my situation just a little better, less fearful because now I had everything “on paper”, so to speak. Whatever we write, is ripe to leave our system. It has been released into the universe. Don’t worry about grammar, poetry, sentence structure, just keep writing as if your life depended on it. Maybe it does in a way.

2. Mantras
As mentioned, my silent short mantras (a.k.a. Japa Mantras) weren’t providing the comfort I’d hoped for. I literally would forget which one I was on and none of them seemed fitting. I dug through my mental library of Sanskrit Mantras but came up empty-literally. I sat there, a little desperate for a moment, until suddenly I was saying the words “I am strong”. Granted, this won’t be the “deepest” mantra, I’ll ever have practiced, neither is it particularly filled with the light that our beloved Sanskrit Mantras are known for. BUT: it was what I felt. I felt I could be strong and saying these basic words, spoken in my own language was suddenly the only way forward. And so it was for the entire 15 minutes that I sat. I am strong, I am strong… For you, it might be I am brave, or I am full of love, whatever bubbles up first is probably right! If you, like me, need comfort more than anything else in this moment, keep it simple. Say what your heart dictates. It knows what it needs.

3. Your Tribe
This one might seem so simple, you’ll laugh at me but if it hadn’t been for my girlfriends literally feeding me, I don’t know now how I would have kept from falling down. Most of them, at the time, didn’t even know what was going on. I wasn’t ready to talk about it and I wasn’t ready for the multiplying effect it would have if they, too, were sad for me. By some weird coincidence, however, they made time to cook for me in the middle of the week, invited me to lunch or bought me smoothies. It was just so obvious that my heart and body required their company because they kept giving me the right things at the right time, without possibly being able to know what was going on. I felt safe and cared for. So I’m here to ask you not to stay alone with your pain. Find those women in your life who have been through it all before and be nourished by their love and wisdom.

4. Keeping your heart open
OK, this one was really tough for me. Everything inside me wanted to shut down, to not feel what I was feeling but my heart wouldn’t have it. Years of conditioning it to keep the walls up had been undone by years of yoga and meditation. I realized I couldn’t go back to the unhealthy days of blind anger, self-doubt and fear, followed by a bunch of shortsighted decisions. So when the sh… hit the fan, I remained open. I cried, when the tears invaded and let the pain move in when it needed to, even if it meant my stomach would turn into knots and I found it hard to breathe.
The odd result was, I met some extremely kind people during this period. I don’t fully understand how it happened but even these strangers would either strike up a conversation (not very common in the city of Berlin, by the way), or just smile when I asked a simple question, offer help in some sort of a way. By keeping this schizophrenic heart–broken but willing– I understood that I wasn’t alone with this. There were other people in this world and there is a way to move beyond the fear of spending the rest of your life heartbroken and alone.

5. Find your favorite Yoga

Maybe you have a favorite teacher or a studio that makes you truly comfortable. Either of these aspects of trust, I found, were key when I felt brave enough to continue my practice during these times. For a few days, I practiced at home because I didn’t feel like falling apart with tons of strangers around me. But when I did go to my studio, I took my favorite Kundalini teacher’s class. The inevitable happened and I did shed a few quiet tears. “Oh, well”, I thought, “I’m at the back of the class, I’ll be fine”, and I was. If it is financially possible, maybe even consider taking a private class. Whichever environment you choose, go easy on yourself and if you decide not to practice, maybe refer to some of the other strategies here or simply do what heals you. There are no rules for heartache, after all.
I hope one or all of these work for you and until then, let us, as women (and men!), be brave with and for each other.

Women Make the Best Friends

(c) Grit Siwonia

Just yesterday, I was supposed to meet one of my best friends for lunch. She is the mother of two small children and a stay-at-home mom. I’m a mom to a teenager and I work full time. That morning I texted my friend to let her know, I’d only have an hour to spare. What followed was a surprisingly upsetting text message letting me know that I wasn’t making enough time for our friendship and if this was all I was prepared to invest, it was implied, that maybe we weren’t the kind of friendship she thought we were.

To be honest, I was completely floored. This was one of my best friends for a number of years after all! I thought we understood each other blindly without having to explain why we’re not in touch all the time. I knew we didn’t spend a lot of facetime but that never changed my perspective of who she is to me; one of my closest friends and confidantes. I replied with a fiery message of my own. A job well done, I might add. Great.

The whole thing got me thinking, as long, angry text messages will do. Why do we, as women, have these high expectations of one another? Shouldn’t we be the ones with the ultimate understanding and compassion for each other? Aren’t we all in the same boat here? Trying to raise children, have a fulfilling career, work on our relationships with our partners, maintain a healthy diet, squeeze in yoga, maybe do some charity work…the list goes on and on and on. Why do even our closest female relationships require all this effort?

The truth is, as women, we value time spent with each other. In the company of our fellow women, we are free to laugh, cry, vent, all in one sitting. If I did all that within an hour with, let’s say my kid, a coworker, or even my husband, it would become a Woody Allen comedy at best. At worst, one of them might suggest a long stay on a quiet, remote island.

Toxic friendships aside, women friendships may be our highest good. Children move out, lovers may move on but our tribe, which may have taken years to build, is here to stay. Whenever my life became unbearable, frightening, dreadful, it was the women who empowered me. I’m not saying I haven’t received support from the wonderful men in my life too! They’ve been great problem solvers! Women, however, reminded me, that I myself am strong, brave, smart enough to fix what is wrong. It was women I spent hours on the phone with crying my eyes out, and women cheered me on, when I needed cheerleaders. Always.

Also, as adults, it’s actually not that easy to create meaningful long-lasting friendships anymore because our work and family time simply don’t leave enough time to “hang out” and get to know each other without a deadline. Ever notice how you seemed to have endless time for that in your teens and twenties, thereby, creating the women friendships in your life today?

With life speeding up not just with age but also with over-digitalization of practically every aspect of our lives, solid friendships don’t come easy. Sure we have Skype and whatsapp and can stay in touch with friends in New Zealand but we might never actually see her, like, ever! Add to that the fact that social media is turning us all into viral personalities, omnipresent but rarely present, well, you get the idea.
My friend and I went the old-fashioned route. We picked up the phone and arranged to meet the very next evening. As is the case for most of us, here was a clash of expectations and misunderstandings that had built up because we simply weren’t participating in each other’s lives that much anymore.

No, it isn’t easy to meet our friends even on a monthly basis sometimes. No, spending tons of time does not mean a friendship is good one. Making time for the women in our lives, however, is the best investment we’ll ever make, you know, something like stock in Google or Apple, only better because when those stocks take a downturn, you’ve still got a friend.