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!






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!