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!






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.

Yoga Against Bad News

Lately, it seems, there is even more negativity and crisis in the news. The more we read or watch, the more we might get the idea, the world is turning into Dante’s Inferno. Not surprisingly, I noticed myself avoiding the news altogether. As much as I wanted to stay in touch with what is going on in Washington, Aleppo, or Standing Rock, I started to only listen to the very minimum of headlines on the radio. If I read longer articles or let myself watch some sort of amateur video of scenes from Aleppo, it would just turn my stomach and leave me feeling hopeless, powerless and utterly disappointed that we are seemingly so unable to leave our children a better planet.

But of course, we cannot turn a blind eye, not forever at least. For most of us, I’m guessing, it’s also important to be sensitive to what is going on in the world around us. So how do we process bad headlines, threatening speeches, disturbing images? How can we stay connected to what feels true and joyful and whole when the news offers nothing but a hateful and fragmented world? I mean, watching a puppy video can be nice but it’s not exactly a long-term strategy for any of this, is it?

Here are some of my go-to practices that I began to establish when I felt there had to be a way to stay conscious of what is happening around me while maintaining hope and joy in my own life.

1. Focusing on what CAN be done
This, I find is the toughest one. After all, what can we possibly do to alleviate the suffering around the world? That’s kind of a tall order isn’t it? I’m getting deflated just thinking about it! Depending on our standard of living, we may not be able to take in a refugee, donate tons of money, or travel to Standing Rock and protest. If you can do any of those things, great and thank you for being you! If, however, those are not viable options, what is it that can be done in our immediate vicinity?

I’m not talking about getting rid of clothes we didn’t need anyway or picking up a gum wrapper on the street. Those are helpful too, for sure. What I am talking about, is picking a targeted mission, however small, something that’s doable for us, that fits into our schedule, and that requires exactly our talents and skills. But what can I do by myself? The answer is, there’s always something, i.e. are there any single moms who need just an hour or two of tutoring for their children? Is there a charity that focuses on a cause close to your heart? Love crafting, reading, painting? Maybe take that to a local organization that helps kids! Something probably came up for you while you read this. Run with that!

Of course, I know, this won’t help people in crises around the world but getting involved never ever fails to have a ripple effect. Heck, you might find a new calling, a new friend, a message just for you! If we can be kind in our immediate life, the abundance that follows is nothing less than miraculous in its reach. Try it! If nothing else, that feeling of being powerless and hopeless will fade, I promise!

2. Sticking to or Creating Rituals
Whether you meditate, read, play the guitar, swim, yodel, dance the Rumba, don’t stop! Not only are rituals and hobbies important to maintain a traceable and meaningful daily life, they also keep us sane. Making sure we carve out time in our lives to focus on the things that bring us joy is increasingly important especially as we get older (and dare I say a little more cynical?). There are no rules really but for me two things are important. The first is, don’t feel guilty that you’re doing something for yourself when the world is apparently falling apart and deserves your every minute of support. We are no use to anybody, if we cannot keep ourselves sane. In an online class with Amy Ippoliti today, Amy said something at the end of class that stuck with me: We need to be consistent for ourselves as much as we are consistent for others. Simple but not always easy, I know.
The second aspect is, let that activity be without an agenda. It doesn’t have to be perfect or done a certain way. The main goal, if there is one, is to feel joy! I don’t mean “nice” or “entertaining”. I mean really LOVE what you’re doing and raise that heart energy! You know you have it when you forget about time altogether. THAT energy has the potential to heal the world in ways, we cannot always imagine.

3. Expand your Tribe
Those of you who have read previous articles of mine will know this sounds familiar. I’m big on tribal bonds, I admit it! But here’s the thing. Tribes give comfort, support, energy. When we spend our time with girlfriends who know us, partners who support us, children, who mean the world to us, we feel safe. We don’t just get a warm, fuzzy feeling, which is lovely. We also grow more confident that not all is lost! There are still people out there who are inspiring and doing amazing things…and they want to spend time with us! Hurray!

Beyond taking care of your existing tribe though, maybe find new members. If you feel strongly about taking conscious action, find likeminded people. I mean, what good is facebook, if it cannot generate events near you that are based on the pages you have liked on the darn platform! I have found so many workshops, circles or small events just in my facebook newsfeed! Not on facebook? Find those local free papers, if they still print them in your area, or check out the message board in your local organic food store, yoga studio, coffee shop or bar. If it’s in your heart, it’s in your neighborhood.

I hope some of these practices are useful to you! How do you deal with bad news? Feel free to share your strategies in the comments below!