5 Summer Reads

5 Best Summer Reads

Spring is here and, hopefully, we’ve all got some lovely plans for the summer. Maybe you’re looking into flights and flats as I write this! Summer, for me, means carving out time whenever possible to sit outside to read. I’m in the fortunate position of living in Berlin, a city that doesn’t believe in mowing grass religiously. So, you’ll find me hidden away in the long grass, fully immersed in the world of another (just as an aside: I love my e-reader for when I’m traveling but something about being out in nature literally, yes literally! leafing through the actual pages of a book, well, there’s no comparison).

If you were only interested in yoga books, I must disappoint you, however. I find it far more interesting to mix things up and let them cross-fertilize each other. But enough about that, before I go off on another whim about the ins and outs of yoga and the rest of the world! Without further ado, here come my favorite 5 reads for the season:

1. Pussy – A Reclamation by Mama Gena
This, ladies, was an act of the truest, most original liberation. Mama Gena talks about that super power all women have, the best kept secret, which, unleashed, shall make not just your world but our whole world come to its senses. Literally. In this book, Mama Gena, re-introduces us to, dare I say it, our pussies. By way of practical and daring exercises that are probably unlike any coaching session you’ve ever gone to, she helps us to reawaken our pussy power. You ‘ll take one, no countless, looks at your pussy. You’ll talk to her ( I like to tell her dirty jokes but whatever). You’ll let her know you appreciate her.

My favorite part? When she makes you say the word pussy out loud. No more “down there”, “private parts”, or pet names for our favorite playground! I felt giddy with excitement and gratitude the whole time I was reading it. Pass it on to your girlfriends, and, even more, those women in your life that may challenge you here and there. We need this.

2. You’re Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen
Right after finishing it, I bought this one for my mom and my best friend and told numerous other girlfriends about it. This book lovingly and intelligently describes those subtle and repetitive mother-daughter dynamics; why we fail to communicate the way we truly want to and how to better understand this woman who is so much part of us and our lives, whether we want it or not. Tannen doesn’t take sides and writes with the empathy of a woman who understands that striking the right balance between too much intimacy and too much distance is a lifelong practice.

My favorite part? The revelation that each woman, daughter and mother, wields limitless power over the other; mothers by giving out acceptance or not, daughters by distancing themselves when things are difficult. Buy it for mom too. I know it changed my relationships to my mom forever.

3. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
I don’t read a whole lot of fiction but this one jumped out at me. Maybe it was the Oprah’s book club stamp of approval but it was definitely worth it. Mbue tells an immigration story unlike many I have read. Without spoiling the ending, suffice it to say that there are “successful” immigration narratives, tragic ones and then there’s those that take a different turn altogether. This is one of those stories, told unapologetically, compassionately but without false sentimentality.

My favorite part? Set in New York during the 2008 financial crash, this novel offers a very real and heartbreaking account of what it must have been like to live through this scary time and tell the tale.

4. The Four by Scott Galloway
Ha, bet you didn’t see this one coming! Here I swerved into another interest of mine, the evils of the digital world! I have an iphone, a facebook account, I shop at Amazon and google is my first stop in all things search, so I’m not pointing any fingers whatsoever. What I love about Galloways’s book, however, is his well-researched predictions of where Amazon, Apple, Google and facebook are taking us. Turns out it reads like science fiction, except it’s not. From Amazon’s logistic ambitions to google’s snooping capabilities, it’s all in there and far more than you thought you knew after the facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.

My favorite part? There’s no moralizing here, we’re online, we’re contributing to the whole monopolization of our consumerist choices but there are ways to stay conscious and informed and maybe not put ALL our valuable data in one basket.

5. Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Now I know this is not a new one for many of you but I felt the list wouldn’t be complete without it, especially because this is a book I will return to over and over again. The author is both a Jungian psychologist and a Cantadora, a story teller. By breaking down fairy tales in a way I’ve never seen done before, she reveals to us the archetype of the “Wild Woman” dormant or wide-awake in all of us. By wild woman she does not mean, we all have to grow our hair long and scraggly and live in the woods but we definitely should unleash this creature in us and find ways for her to be allowed to exist in and guide our everyday life. Estés shows us how.

My favorite part? Estés’s deep insights into how vitally important it is not to ignore the wild woman in us and to stop sacrificing her at the altar of our responsibilities, relationships and distractions.

little disclaimer: I linked all the books to amazon for convenience (ah, yes, the modern devil) but I try to order from my local bookstore as much as possible!

Am I The Only Toxic Person Out Here?

Zur deutschen Version bitte hier entlang.

Whether we’re decluttering, sorting out or tossing stuff. The opportunities to renew our lives are virtually endless. A quick search on Google for the word declutter yielded so many pages, I quickly tired of reading them. You can get rid of anything, really: bad thoughts, friends, furniture, old files. Life reloaded.

I love decluttering! Of course, that’s easy for me to say, I don’t find it very difficult. Owning too many things makes me feel unfree, the ole “what you own, owns you” kind of thinking, I guess. There’s hardly a day that I don’t come across an item I no longer want and that I either give to friends or dispose of in some other way. So, you could assume I’m totally down with the whole minimalist movement, along the lines of, if it’s not beautiful or useful, toss it!

Not so fast! Today I want to talk about sorting out negative people in our circle of friends and acquaintances. In the esoteric scene, we speak of these guys as toxic people. Ostensibly, we’re surrounded by bad people whom we should be kicking to the curb in a timely and final fashion. Somehow, that gets me asking several questions: If everyone’s toxic, who is clean? If there are only victims here, who are the perpetrators? If I am surrounded only by toxic people, what does that say about me? This separation of good and bad is too easy, to quick, too incomplete for my taste.

Each of us has probably lost a person we were close to, right? The relationships were once wonderful, intense, helpful until they weren’t, or they couldn’t any longer. We couldn’t find our way back to each other without inflicting mutual pain. By now, we’ve also very likely understood that not all friendships are meant to last a lifetime. Some of our companions were exactly right for a certain phase in our life, until they weren’t. This alone doesn’t make us or the people around us toxic. It just means the connection no longer made sense to either of us and that’s ok.

What bothers me, is not the natural lifecycle of relationships. It is the fact that these cycles have gotten a lot faster that I find strange. Apparently, we don’t fight for stuff anymore. After all, don’t we have enough friends on facebook and Instagram? And if it’s community we seek, there are thousands just a click away. So why deal with people who question us, confront us, say things that really get our blood boiling? Does it mean they’re out to destroy us (note to self: cleanse aura.)? Are they really just jealous? Is the whole human useless and unworthy of my attention because s/he said something hurtful? So many questions! There can only be one answer: unfriend. Toss that negativity, Sista!

In these cases, in the yoga universe, we often speak of “letting go what no longer serves us”. I second that emotion wholeheartedly. What I find questionable, however, is the lack of self-awareness. All too quickly, those of us in the spiritual scene arrive at the same conclusion: “Case closed; everyone around me is toxic, except me!” That reminds me of past-life regression therapy. During these sessions, it turns out, we were all healers, rulers and if not, we were definitely good people or the victim of other people’s transgressions. Um, so nobody volunteering for the role of dictator, murderer, how about thieve at least? Anybody? How is that possible? Where did every-bad-body go?

But let’s get back to this life: We’re mid-fight. Our “nemesis” just won’t admit she said something hurtful. We’re not ready to admit that we may have triggered that remark beforehand. Forget saying sorry. The fronts solidify and we need to decide this thing now (why is that? Can’t we let it incubate for a moment, stay with the discomfort?) The jury is in: This person’s gotta go because “I only want to spend time with people that are good for me right now,” or “sorry, I’m just vibing at a higher frequency now, can’t deal with this negative energy!” Plus, it says so in my daily horoscope. Huh.

Please don’t get me wrong. If a person continuously hurts us, if we’re pouring love all over this thing but all we get is manipulation, I’m the last one to say “hold on”! As mentioned above, I have left, I’ve been left by people I loved because all we had left for each other was pain.

Let’s say this is a friend, however, whom we were very much connected to in a loving way. We’ve known them for a long time. Together we weathered life’s great challenges. Perhaps it’s worth taking a second or third look at this person or relationship. Maybe that is where the healing and a new kind of appreciation can happen. Do I really need to sever all ties? Can’t we just take a moment, gain some distance and equipped with a moderately sized cocktail (fine…green smoothie then) talk about it or even just decide to go for a clean slate instead?

Esther Perel, the famous couple’s counselor said something stunningly beautiful at the end of her TED Talk. She was talking about couples who were trying to get over an affair but the logic can surely be applied to friendships as well: “Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages and some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one-together?”

Old friendships are valuable but of course they are prone to dynamics that aren’t always useful or healthy. But this is my pitch for holding on, even if that friend is not “serving” us at the moment. Optimizing, decluttering, renewing does not have to mean replacing. It can also mean reevaluation, practicing a new, healthy relationship with this person and, here comes the hard part, maybe holding up a mirror to ourselves. Who’s toxic now? Am I being to idealistic? Old-fashioned? Lemme know in the comments section and thank you for reading!

Ist das Freundschaft oder kann das weg?

English version

Ausmisten, wegschmeißen, optimieren. Uns gehen die Gelegenheiten, uns und unser Leben neu auszurichten schier nicht aus. Eine Google Suche nach „declutter“ (englisch: ausmisten) ergab so viele Ergebnisse, dass ich müde wurde, die Titel zu lesen. Da kann man alles loswerden: schlechte Gedanken, Freund*Innen, Möbel, Unterlagen. Life-reloaded.

Ich liebe Ausmisten! Allerdings habe ich auch leicht Reden, denn mir fällt es nicht besonders schwer. Ich fühle mich schnell besitzbelastet und sortiere eigentlich jeden Tag irgendwas aus, das ich meinen Freundinnen schenken, oder sonst wie entsorgen kann. Man könnte also denken, ich gehe voll mit bei der Bewegung; Was nicht schön oder nützlich ist, raus!

Nicht so schnell! Heute geht es mir um das „Aussortieren“ negativer Menschen in unserem Freundes-und Bekanntenkreis. Gerne sprechen wir in der Esoszene von „toxic people“, also giftigen Menschen. Scheinbar, sind wir alle von schlechten Menschen umgeben, die wir ganz dringend und mit Finalität loswerden sollten. Da entstehen bei mir gleich mehrere Fragen: Wenn hier alle toxic sind, wer ist dann „clean“? Wenn es nur Opfer gibt, wo sind die Täter? Wenn ich ausnahmslos von toxics umgeben bin, was sagt das über mich aus? Diese Trennung von „gut und böse“…das ist mir zu einfach, zu schnell, zu unvollständig.

Jede*r von uns hat bestimmt schon Menschen verloren, die uns sehr nahestanden. Die Beziehungen waren eine Zeit lang wunderbar, intensiv, hilfreich, bis sie es eben nicht mehr waren oder wurden. Wir finden den Weg zueinander nicht zurück und die Freundschaft kann nicht mehr aufrechterhalten werden, ohne dass Eine*r oder beide leiden. Verstanden haben wir wahrscheinlich auch, dass nicht alle Freundschaften lebenslang sein müssen. Manche Wegbegleiter*Innen sind für bestimmte Lebensphasen genau richtig, bis sie es eben nicht mehr sind. Das macht diese Menschen und auch uns nicht unbedingt toxisch. Die Verbindung hat nur ihre Sinnhaftigkeit verloren und das ist auch ok so.

Was mich beschäftigt ist aber nicht der natürliche Lebenszyklus von Beziehungen. Ich finde es nur merkwürdig, dass dieser immer schneller geworden ist. Wir scheinen für nichts mehr zu kämpfen. Schließlich haben wir genügend Freund*Innen, sind auf facebook und Instagram, etc. verbunden, eine Community ist genau einen Klick entfernt. Warum sich also mit Leuten aufhalten, die einen hinterfragen, konfrontieren, auch mal Sachen sagen, die einem so richtig auf die Eierstöcke gehen? Wollen die uns dann immer gleich Böses? (Notiz an Selbst: Aura ausräuchern.) Sind die wirklich nur neidisch? Ist der Mensch in Gänze abtrünnig und meiner Aufmerksamkeit unwürdig, weil er etwas Verletzendes gesagt hat? So viele Fragen! Da kann es nur eine Antwort geben: unfriend. Weg mit der ganzen Negativität!

In der Yogaszene ist in diesen Fällen oft von „lass los, was dir nicht dient“, die Rede. Dem stimme ich prinzipiell auch aus ganzem Herzen zu. Was ich fragwürdig finde, ist der Mangel an Selbstreflektion. Schnell sind wir in der Spiriwelt bei dem Fazit: Klarer Fall, alle sind toxisch, nur ich nicht! Mir fallen dabei auch die ganzen Rückführungen ein. In vorherigen Leben, so erzählt man uns, waren wir Heiler*Innen, König*Innen, auf jeden Fall aber gute Menschen oder Opfer einer Ungerechtigkeit. Hmmm, keiner war Despot*In, Mörder*In, Betrüger*In? Wie kann denn das sein? Wo sind denn bloß alle?

Doch zurück zu diesem Leben: Wir stecken in einer Auseinandersetzung. Unser Gegenüber will einfach nicht einsehen, dass sie etwas Verletzendes gesagt hat und wir wollen nicht einsehen, dass dem evtl. auch eine ungerechte Bemerkung unsererseits voraus ging. Entschuldigen will sich auch niemand. Die Fronten verhärten sich und es muss jetzt schnell eine Entscheidung her (warum eigentlich, kann man da nicht auch mal mit schwanger gehen, es aushalten, dass die Lösung noch nicht sofort klar ist?). Wir beschließen: Dieser Mensch muss weg, oder „ich will jetzt nur noch mit Menschen zusammen sein, die mir guttun,“ oder „ich schwinge da jetzt einfach höher und habe mich von negativen Energien befreit.“ „Steht auch so in meinem Tageshoroskop.“ Huh.

Bitte nicht falsch verstehen, wenn uns jemand wirklich nicht guttut, wir die ganze Zeit Liebe rein geben und nur Manipulation dabei raus kommt, bin ich die Letzte, die sagt „halt’ durch!“. Wie erwähnt, ich habe mich von sehr geliebten Menschen getrennt (oder sie sich von mir), weil wir keinen anderen Weg mehr sahen und nur noch Schmerzen hatten.

Wenn es sich allerdings um Freund*Innen handelt, mit denen wir eine liebevolle Verbindung eingegangen sind, die wir vielleicht auch schon lange kennen, mit der wir durch dick und dünn gegangen sind, kann es wertvoll und heilsam sein, noch ein zweites oder drittes Mal hinzusehen. Muss man die jetzt gleich abservieren? Wirklich? Geht nicht ein bisschen Abstand und bei einem Cocktail (ok, grüner Smoothie geht auch) entweder darüber reden oder sich für Tabula Rasa, einen Neuanfang entscheiden?

Esther Perel, die bekannte Paartherapeutin, hat bei ihrem TED Talk ganz zum Schluss etwas Wunderschönes gesagt. Es ist zwar an Paare gerichtet, die eine Affäre zu überwinden versuchen, aber ich finde die Logik trifft auch auf Freundschaften zu: „Heutzutage, im Westen, werden die meisten von uns zwei oder drei Beziehungen oder Ehen haben. Manche von uns werden diese mit der gleichen Person haben. Eure erste Ehe ist vorbei. Möchtet ihr die zweite Ehe zusammen eingehen?”

Alte Freundschaften sind viel Wert aber natürlich schleichen sich hier und da Dynamiken ein, die nicht immer gesund und förderlich sind. Dies hier ist aber mein Plädoyer dafür, nicht gleich los zu lassen, weil die Person gerade nicht „dient“. Optimieren, ausmisten, erneuern, heißt nicht immer austauschen. Es kann auch heißen, dass ich neu evaluiere, mich darin übe, mit diesem geliebten Menschen in eine gesündere Verbindung zu treten, bzw. – aua!– mir selbst auch mal den Spiegel vor zu halten. Bin ich zu idealistisch? Oder gar altmodisch? Was meinst du? Schreib’ s mir in den Kommentaren und danke fürs Lesen!

Please Don’t Laugh, Yoga Is Serious!

(für den deutschen Artikel, bitte weiter runter scrollen!)

It’s a serious matter, this whole spirituality business. Here you are working your butt off, meditating, processing minor, even major trauma, visiting healers and like-minded yogis, hoping to somehow make things easier for yourself at some point. And things do get easier but sometimes it feels like it’s taking forever. So, what to do in the meantime? You know, those years in between, when you’re stuck, you’re not getting the big BIG picture yet and life’s knocking you over and over, like a pin in a bowling game. Just hold tight? Wallow in self-pity? Upgrade mind and soul with the newest trends (Tequila Yoga anybody?)? How about we just laugh at ourselves?

Well, if you’re running with the yoga crowd (German yogis in my case, as I live in Berlin), you ain’t got much to laugh about. After all, this is where life’s big questions surface: Who am I? When will I stop being drawn to Narcissistic people? What to do at the weekend: balance out those Chakras, or hop over to Mallorca, join the umpteenth body challenge? So many questions!

But seriously. What is wrong with us? From Cacao Circle to Blessingway, why are we all so darn grim? How come not a single soul seems able to laugh about him/herself anymore? I mean, let’s face it, we’re not the only ones with problems. And honestly, how funny is the adventurous search for answers sometimes. I have one or two stories I could share, don’t you?

The other day on facebook: A yogi with the standard beard and bun sends me a lovely note asking whether he could post my profile on his website. I’m pleased by the offer and head on over to his site. Here I find out more about the teachers and their specializations. From sacred geometry to Reiki, it’s all there. My yogic friend refers to himself as an alchemist. “Jesus,”, I think, I’m definitely underqualified with my classic 500h Hatha Yoga training.” That one may be solid but I certainly cannot change the elements of one chemical into another (that’s what alchemy is, I hope?) I explain to my facebook friend that I’ m not yet familiar with the metaphysical stuff and I’d probably just ruin their party. My colleague doesn’t find this amusing. What follows are carefully measured answers and the earnest question, which party I’m referring to.

„What a shame,“ I think as I wistfully close my messenger app. Instead of explaining to me in earnest what it is he does or taking a moment to laugh about how strange we ALL come across occasionally, he just says he was not born yesterday, that I’m being ironic and no hard feelings on his side.

Alright, alright, yes. I was being slightly sarcastic. But with all this spirituality and the important work we as healers and teachers perform, shouldn’t there be room for some self-deprecating humor? Frankly speaking, what other than laughter is left when you’re in downward facing dog and somebody asks whether you’re pelvic floor is tight? Or when, upon separating, your husband takes everything with him, returning only when he realizes he forgot the potato peeler. Or I catch myself lamenting the fact that I’m a Virgo in my rising sign, which sucks, because it is also my birth sign.

Of course, on many an occasion crying is the only thing we can do and of course the sh§$% we have to process on a day-to-day basis is often no laughing matter. But then suddenly, I’m reminded of a depeche mode song:„…I think that God’s got a sixth sense of humor and when I die, I expect to find him laughing,“ and I smile

What do you think? Laugh or cry? Lemme know in the comments below and thank you for reading!

Yoga ist nicht zum Lachen!

Das ist ein ernstes Unterfangen mit der Spiritualität. Man arbeitet und meditiert, wälzt sich durch nicht geringe Traumata, besucht Heiler*Innen und Gleichgesinnte, und hofft irgendwie, dass danach alles leichter wird. Das wird es mitunter auch aber es dauert manchmal ganz schön! Was also macht man in der Zwischenzeit? Du weißt schon, in den Jahren, in denen man stecken bleibt, der Durchblick noch fehlt, das Leben einen pausenlos blöd von der Seite anmacht? Durchbeißen? In Selbstmitleid versinken? Körper und Seele mit den neuesten Trends upgraden? Wie wäre es mit über uns selbst Lachen?

Nun, wer sich in der Yogaszene, der Seriösen versteht sich, tummelt, hat nicht viel zu lachen. Hier geht es um die ganz großen Fragen: Wer bin ich? Wann bin ich durch mit narzisstischen Menschen? Am Wochenende Chakras ausbalancieren oder doch lieber nach Malle zur Body Challenge, die 500ste? Fragen über Fragen!

Ok, ernsthaft jetzt. Was ist mit uns los? Wieso sind vom Cacao Circle bis zum Blessingway alle so verdammt ernst? Wieso kann hier eigentlich keiner mehr über sich selbst lachen? Ich meine, wir sind doch nicht die einzigen Menschen auf der Welt, die Probleme haben! Und ist es etwa nicht lustig, was die Suche nach Antworten manchmal so für Abenteuer mit sich bringt? Also mir fallen da schon ein, zwei Schoten ein!

Neulich auf facebook: Ein Yogi, mit obligatorischem Beard & Bun schreibt mir sehr sympathisch, ob er mich auf seine Website packen dürfe. Ich freue mich über das Interesse und folge dem Link zu seiner Seite. Dort lese ich mehr über das Team. Von Sacred Geometry bis Reiki tun sich zahlreiche Fähigkeiten auf. Mein Yogi beschreibt sich selbst als Alchemist. „Donnerwetter“, denke ich, „also da biste auf jeden Fall unterqualifiziert, mit deiner klassischen 500h Hatha Yoga Ausbildung“. Das mag ja Hand und Fuß haben aber davon, dass ich eine Materie in eine Andere verwandle (das ist doch Alchemie, oder?), kann keine Rede sein. Ich erkläre meinem facebook Freund, dass ich leider noch nicht so viel über metaphysische Ebenen weiß, und ihnen bestimmt die Suppe versalze. Mein Kollege findet es nicht so lustig. Es kommen bemüht gezügelte Antworten. Zum Abschluss fragt er welche Suppe ich meine?

„Wie schade“, denke ich, während ich wehmütig den Messenger schließe. Statt, dass er erklärt, was er als Alchemist konkret macht oder aber herzhaft darüber lacht, dass wir ALLE gelegentlich etwas merkwürdig rüber kommen, sagt er einfach, er sei ja nicht von gestern und ich bin ironisch aber „no hard feelings“.

Ja ok, ich war ein bisschen ironisch aber bei all der Spiritualität und der wichtigen Arbeit, die wir als Lehrer*Innen, Heiler*Innen, etc. leisten, kann man doch mal über sich selbst lachen oder nicht? Ehrlich gesprochen, was bleibt denn noch übrig, außer lachen, wenn ich im nach-unten-schauenden Hund gefragt werde, ob mein Beckenboden dicht ist? Oder der Mann nach der Trennung alles mitnimmt und tatsächlich nochmal zurückkommt, weil er den Kartoffelschäler vergessen hat? Oder ich mich selbst dabei ertappe, wie ich jemandem erkläre, dass mein Jungfrau Aszendent mich voll abnervt, weil ich schon im Sternzeichen Jungfrau bin?

Versteht mich nicht falsch. Ich nehme mich da kein bisschen raus. Klar ist oft weinen angesagt, auch bei mir. Und natürlich ist viel von dem, was wir Menschen so tagtäglich verarbeiten müssen alles andere als lustig aber ich denke dann plötzlich an depeche mode: „…I think that God’s got a sixth sense of humor and when I die, I expect to find him laughing,“ und schmunzele.

Was meinst du dazu? Auch mal lachen oder heute nicht? Schreib’s mir in den Kommentaren und danke fürs Lesen!

Yoga Class or Yoga Online?


(c) Grit Siwonia

Not dissin’ it: Frankly, online classes have been a mainstay in my personal practice as a student and as a teacher for a number of years. I owe tremendous insight and gratitude to Elena, Kathryn, Kia and co. who were generous enough to share their knowledge not just with a local class but with a growing global yoga community. Their experience and spiritual guidance have been a source of ongoing support and an important resource for me, especially when I’m traveling.

So why get my butt up and go to a studio with a rigid schedule, travel time to get there and, possibly, an overcrowded room with no air? Here are five reasons why shaking things up with regular trips to your local yoga studio will enrich our practice beyond expectations:

  1. Anticipation: Actually making the trip to the studio, whether on foot or in our car, already transitions us into yoga. We know we’re going to breathe, work our body therapeutically and do something just for us. Squeezing in a 15-minute video in between getting the kids ready and driving to work can make yoga feel like another item on our to-do list.
  2. Dirty Laundry: We make a conscious effort to commit to our practice without distractions. Maybe I’m a little on the OCD side but staring at my dirty laundry left of my mat and my desk piled with unanswered mail on my right can be distracting when I’m trying to balance in Warrior III!
  3. I had no idea!: Running into other yogis at the studio can be inspiring as well as informative. We may find out about local yoga events or workshops, learn of a new bookstore or meditation center not far from where we live. Re-realizing there’s a whole world of like-minded individuals right where we live can help us to stick to our practice.
  4. Decision fatigue: I don’t know about you but sometimes figuring out which class to pick is overwhelming! Should I work on shoulders, Ayurveda, is that a headache coming on?, do I feel up to 15 minutes, 60, 90? Committing to a class at the studio means we just do it, literally going with the flow as opposed to trying to optimize, customize and specialize our practice.
  5. Getting personal: Maybe this is the most obvious one. But finding a teacher we trust and who inspires us is one of the greatest, lasting gifts yoga can give us. Sure, seeing them on a computer screen or big flat screen is informative and helps us build a regular practice. Learning with the real person, however, is the real yoga deal. Plus: getting individual feedback from a teacher who knows you? Priceless.

So grab your mat and check out that new studio around the corner and thank yourself later for showing up!

Fasting or Fighting?

© Tracy Pallmann

Though I’m not religious per se, I decided to give up sugar for lent this year. The idea was to forego something I enjoy almost every day, develop a healthier eating habit maybe. Not having given the subject much thought (or preparation) I have been turning down my favorite foods such as chocolate, cakes and Nutella. It’s actually not as difficult as I thought just yet. Of course, this is only day 5 of my endeavor. Still, sweet stuff is a big thing for me, especially when temperatures drop below 0 (Celsius) and I’m craving comfort foods, like, a lot of them.

Don’t worry, what follows is not a shrift on why sugar is bad for us or what the health benefits of giving up sugar are. There are plenty of excellent books out there. I haven’t read any of them in full yet (again, cupcake addict over here) but a quick google search yielded hundreds of results, if you care to delve further into the research and lifestyle of the sugarfree revolution.

What I became interested in was the whole idea of abstaining from something in general. Voluntarily, thereby, consciously, saying no to something you normally would say yes to, something you habitually take in, without really reflecting on it. To me, who was raised in the Christian faith until I picked my own path of spirituality, this whole lent thing felt like self-flagellation, so I never tried. I thought of lent as a punishment. “I’ve been naughty, take my cupcake! I’m inherently evil, must suffer something, ANYthing! I don’t love my neighbor (friend, passer-by, dog) right now, so I guess God’s really mad now and I’ll stop eating my favorite food.” You get the picture. Giving up something to me was, like: “wait, why? Isn’t life rough enough? Isn`t it constantly asking us to make sacrifices for work, families, finances, etc.? Meh, count me out. Too boring, to harrowing, hate it, having my cake and eating it, thank you!”

But wait! For fun, let’s take the idea of abstinence, guilt, sacrifice (terribly religious terms, no?) out of it and think about fasting in a broader sense. What if a colleague always asks you to do extra work but this time you just say no. You tell yourself: “I’m fasting from extra-workloads, thank you!” What if you could fast from self-defeating thoughts and when they do come up, you gently let them know, “sorry, guys, temporarily away from this bullshit.” Have a lot of opinions? I know I do but what if we just tell the other person: “So sorry, I took a vow of abstinence on being-right-all-the-time. Will get back to you in 40 days!”

Imagine, stopping yourself from doing the same ‘ole thing over and over because you’re on a fast from it all. That’s new…you’re fasting and yet gaining! You’re taking a step back from stuff and reflecting on it. Gone is the idea of living without. Gone also that nagging concept that fasting is annoying, too hard, or a meaningless religious relic.

So this may not do much for your waistline (won’t it?), just in case that was your goal. But what it might do, is give back more than was taken; more self-determination, less negative self-talk, more conscious engagement, fewer knee-jerk reactions, more variety, less monotony. Whatever it is we’re fasting from, may it enrich us, nourish us and bestow upon us more freedom of choice and, dare I say, self-love.

Are you fasting? How’s that working for ya? Lemme know in the comments section below and thank you for reading!

One Angry Yogi

Image (c) Grit Siwonia

Yoga has become something of a cure-all these days. From reversing heart disease to easing anxiety as well as depression while rewiring our brains for the better, and enhancing our general moods, the research on the benefits of yoga is revealing new amazing facts every day. For me personally, yoga became such an essential part of maintaining sanity and health that I became a believer and, consequently, a teacher. Yoga, pranayama (breath work), various meditation techniques have provided a tremendous source of support in my life. I have seen my students, especially my male students, change dramatically from breathing with much less effort to translating their practice to their day-to-day lives. No doubt, a regular yoga practice has the potential to reshape our perspectives on many aspects of our lives.

That said, what about the really big emotions, the primal, instinctive, seemingly uncontrollable ones? What do we do when white-hot anger is pulsing through our veins or our grief has become so all-encompassing that we – quite literally – don’t know where to put it? What if an emotion grows both in intensity and longevity to the point where we feel like the vessel that is our body won’t be able to contain this paralyzing brew for much longer?

Well, that was the situation I was faced with for not just a day or two but for months and months on end this past year. A relationship and an important friendship had come to an end and try as I did, I could not resolve them in what I thought was the “yogic way”. I wanted to walk away in love. I asked for forgiveness and tried to return the favor. I talked, sometimes loudly, then deescalated, cried, prayed, practiced yin yoga, took spinning classes. These were all helpful but temporary in effect. I still couldn’t shake the feeling of anger and vindictiveness over having been treated unfairly and being too powerless to stop it. As a yogini, my initial approach was supposed to be reasonable and loving because I got the big picture, right? The whole “what would love do?” approach comes to mind. As a result, I wanted to keep everything so damn civilized and peaceful, usually with one of two consequences. Either I wasn’t taken seriously and the abuse continued or I found myself apologizing over and over just to be able to move on and get to the actual issues at hand. I became the doormat that paved the way to my own very-near emotional annihilation.

This pity-party continued for quite a while…until I rediscovered Kali. Kali, you may know, is a Hindu Goddess who is known for her unprecedented destructive (and renewal) powers. She is depicted with her tongue sticking out, often black or electric-blue in skin tone, a fierce woman warrior with each of her multiple hands wielding a weapon of (mass) destruction, shrink heads dangling from her belt. Where did I find her? I’m not sure where it started but suddenly she was everywhere: in a phone call to my friend, in a book I had stumbled upon on my shelf, in a session with a healing therapist I had been working with.

I realized, simply pouring love over everything and channeling my anger in Trikonasana was not enough. Forgiveness meditation, though useful at times, was not enough. Carefully verbalizing my anger was not enough. Staying reasonable was not enough. None of these strategies made the emotion leave my body and let me breathe freely for a sustainable period of time.

The most astounding insight was, however, that my idea of “the yogic way” was completely off! The yogic way of discipline and surrender does not necessarily mean controlling all of our emotions or waiting for it all to be dissolved in love by the Universe/Goddess. I think it means honoring these states as true for the moment, not denying ourselves the right to feel, as that in itself is an act of resistance (against ourselves) not surrender.

It wasn’t until I gave myself permission to be out of control and livid that things started to get better. I listened to really loud music (AC/DC anybody?). I danced around my apartment to the point of exhaustion. I told people just how dark my fantasies of revenge really were. I wrote them down. I stopped censoring and “adulting” as we say.

Uh-oh. So I’m not always a good person. I’m not always kind. I have a tongue that can backlash so fast, it’s got its own stick shift. Inside me is a person (thankfully only one of many) who, like Kali, wanted to remove anybody standing in her way and not look back. No regrets, no guilt, no emotions. One raging bitch whom you had better not mess with. I knew all this about myself but it had been caged in by feel-good phrases of “everything happens for a reason” or my favorite “just let it go”. Are you kidding? I’d rather hit a pillow, you know, like in that movie Analyze This.

Having admitted to all of this to myself as well as friends and healers around me, the most amazing thing began to happen: the anger started to dissipate. I could feel it loosening its grip in places of concentration: my shoulders, neck, jaw, my belly, the whole reproductive area. It took a few more weeks but the cloud was visibly lifting. The idea that I was allowed to feel the full spectrum of human emotions and name them broke the spell. I could be a yoga teacher and still human-mercy me.

Toddlers do this so much better. When it all gets too much, they throw themselves on the supermarket floor and whale. I mean, don’t we all want to do that sometimes? We do, we should. So, when it comes the deep, violent emotions, I have come to realize, maybe the question isn’t always “what would love do?” but instead “what would self-love do?”.

What do you do when the big emotions strike? Lemme know in your comments below and thanks for reading!