Yoga Teachers are supposed to be Happy

I know, “supposed to” is like a bad word.

The title of this post is inspired by a recent conversationI had with my boyfriend.

We had a conversation that brought up alot more than I thought would surface.  In trying to figure out what direction we were heading, I got a text that read, “you are not happy,” to which my reply was, “my unhappiness is largely about me, not you.”  It’s true, you can’t make anyone else happy if you can’t make yourself happy.  I’m not talking about just a little bit happy, but happy in life and with life, versus moments of happiness sprinkled in.

Part of  my life’s purpose is to figure out what makes me happy, what freedom feels, tastes, and smells like and to be joyful.  Now I realize that everyone could perhaps say this, to keep finding their bliss, which I hope is true.

The reason why this seems like a big deal, is because I have spent so much of my life unhappy, chronically and conditionally.  In alot of ways, it is my own doing, my unhappiness.

It started out harmless, being worried and anxious about things when I was a little girl, which more or less translated into being worried and anxious about things when I was not so little, and then again, being worried and anxious when I transitioned to a young woman.

My way of dealing with things is to tense up, to freeze up, to see the worst possible outcome at the outset of anything going awry.

Which is why…..I believe it is my life’s purpose to discover what I have deemed my theme moving forward into 2015 and beyond (can I say infinity and beyond) which is LIBERATED JOY.

Now I know it is in there, in me, and in you, and in every human being, yet it is not always liberated.  On the contrary, it can be concealed.

I recently saw my friend Jenny go through this.  She realized that she had succombed to the darker side of life and she was finally sick of it.  In some big and small ways, she started to aim her life in a different direction and I watch her as she continues to shift, to make good choices for her health and wellbeing, and most essentially, to liberate her joy.  She liberates alot of other things as well as she is a dancer and artist, but most poignantly, it is her own personal joy she is unleashing.

When I teach yoga, I am happy.  Most classes I teach these days are an hour long and I teach anywhere from 1 to four classes a day, so for those hours I am teaching, I am happy.  Sure, there are days when I feel like my energy isn’t great and the class isn’t dynamic or interesting enough, but generally and regardless, I am happy when I teach.  But I started to notice an interesting paradigm recently.  When I wasn’t teaching yoga, those hours in between, I was not happy.

Clearly, the solution is not to teach yoga 24/7, but why was I so unhappy?

It recently hit me, on the heels of having my boyfriend tell me a number of truthful and not so warm and fuzzy things.

I am not happy because I have been passively waiting for life to happen to me.  My boyfriend likes to say that he happens to things, that he happens to life rather than life happening to him.

Now I grew up playing and loving soccer.  I was always a defender, even though I secretly coveted forwards and mid-fielders.  They ran a ton and had the glory and fame of scoring the goals.  I always wished I was cut-out to be a natural born forward, yet there I was in the back of the field, defending the goal.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about this, defenders are bad asses and I was a good defender.  The best defenders are the one’s who also attack on goal, yes, think Sergio Ramos.

That wasn’t exactly me.  Whenever I would run up the field I always had a harkening sense that I needed to get my butt back to my area so that nothing would go wrong, so I wouldn’t let the team down.  Still, I thirsted for something different, for putting the ball in the back of the net.

The beauty of hindsight is always 20/20.  And the beauty of acknowledging your wishes and desires out loud is that you realize just because you were a defender on a soccer field for many many years and it seemed to suit my nature, that you no longer have to be on the defense.  In fact, it would be good to learn how to play all the positions well, because they all serve a darn good purpose.  I have often thought that you couldn’t win a game without the offense, but equally so, you can’t win a game without the defense.  It is good to know when to attack, when to defend, and when to just move the ball around and create strategy.

And so it is, an insight that has so graciously opened up to me, that my unhappiness is largely due to a learned behavior I like to call, waiting for life to happen, or as the song goes, “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin.”  It is not like I have never noticed this before, but there comes a time in all of our lives, when we see something for what it is and we recognize the source of pain and we finally say, enough is enough.

Every year I pick a word that is like a mantra, a driving force that reminds me of something bigger in life, a frame of reference to come back to you if I have gone adrift.  This year is no exception, Liberated Joy is my mantra and the beauty of it is, is that I don’t actually have to attain anything before it is accomplished.  It is a moment to moment connecting with myself and making decisions that are seeking those two words.

I encourage you too, to find a word or words, that resonate with you.  Words that the moment you say them, the cells in your body agree.  They can serve as a good compass, guiding you on your path not just now, but always.

Cheers, Love, and Life

Jess

Out of the Womb

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My mom once said to me, somewhere in my tumultuous teens, “don’t you ever take time to reflect?” I’m pretty sure my response was a deer caught in headlights kind of face.

Well mom, it must have landed with me, because somewhere soon after, in my tumultuous teens, I became the reflector, so much so, my friends always said, “Jess, you think too much,” to which I replied in my own head, “what do you mean?” The truth was, I didn’t think I thought enough, not about the obvious things in front of me anyway. I was stirring a pot deep inside and swirling in those thoughts….that was then, this is now!

Today I reflect on (drumroll please)….my first year in New York City! Manhattan to be more specific. Lower Manhattan to be more specific. The West Village to be more direct.

Location, location, location.

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There are so many things to share about. Like howmany earrings I have lost, making a whole lot of single earrings that don’t match or how riding my bike around this town is like playing a video game; dodging doors, cabs, and people, finding the fastest route, weaving through traffic, getting nugged numerous times by cabs, throwing alot of middle fingers at cabs, getting alot of middle fingers thrown right back at me.   I could tell you about how amazed I am at the friends and friendships I have made, the hustle of teaching yoga and working different angles to make ends meet. I could reflect on the energy of the city, how it can sap energy but how it simultaneously keeps driving energy forward…..so many things to tell.  Like how I have fallen in love and out of love in a sliver of time.   And then the perplexity of dating.

But what is most salient, is how Manhattan has really given me my fight back. That may not sound like a good thing, but trust me, there is a certain joy I get every time I feel myself bubble up with anything that feels like, “screw you, I am standing up for myself!” Nevine Michan, my yoga teacher would say, it’s my liver getting feisty.

Growing up I was a good girl, I painted in the lines, I didn’t cause trouble, so the trouble started to brew deep inside. Of course like many storms, it errupted in a cacophony of “behaviors” that I still tried to curb to be socially unidentifiable. No one was to know what was going on. Shit, I did not know what was going on, I just knew something was not right.

I was mostly quiet and  in pain. It started out really as emotional pain, I put myself in some physical pain, I was just hurting inside.

I also became kind of a doormat. I hate admitting this out loud.

Here, step on me, I won’t do anything in return.

I had very few opionions (because I wasn’t thinking, except about my suffering), I stopped learning, like a light switch just turned off in my head. The curiousity button was on permanant lock-down—-except——I was always keen to talk to people and hear about their life stories. How they got where they were, how they came to those decisions. I guess in some way I as trying to keep myself alive through the hope and inspiration of others. To my credit, it worked!

I was deeply insecure however, about being a doormat. I mean, how quickly someone might find out, that behind the mat, is just a flat ground. Solid, hard, with nothing more to look for. Dear god, that is so what my fear was (ok, and still is). Take my doormat mask off and what you see below is, da-da-da-daaaaa, NOTHING.

Whoa, really. Well, needless to say, it’s not actually true but yes, it is still a fear that comes up from time to time.

A few months ago my yoga teacher, Abbie Galvin, looked at me and said, “you just need to figure out who you are…”

Oh My God. Are you kidding me?

Isn’t that what I have been doing for the past ten years. But it made sense. I mean, after being a doormat for so long, mistakingly so, it is time to go and really find out what I am made of.

I had floated for so long. Floated through elementary, mid, high-school, and even college without having a real drive for something. Nothing caught my attention (because I was so invested in my personal suffereing), so I just got through with good enough grades that no one would raise an eyebrow.

What does all of this have to do with my one year celebration of being in this maginficent city you ask?

Everything, up to this point!

This past year could really be called, “How Manhattan put the fight back in this chick.”

I fought for nothing. I lost a lot of hope and inspiration through some keys years of development. I truly believe being in Manhattan for the last year, the stagnated development that was beginning to gain momentum, has been drastically accelerated, which is why, I am happy when I flip-off cab drivers for encroaching on my space as a cyclist or why I feel stern, when I have to say good-bye to a friendship over some petty thing. I am totally willing to be humble, admit when I am wrong, but at this point in time, I am not willing to be sorry for something that I have done nothing wrong.

I often tell people, when they ask me why I moved here  from Seattle (she’s a charmer),that  something was missing, for me.

If cities were people,  Seattle could be characterized as earthy, watery, deep, stand-offish, pristine, clean, green, spacious, insulated, isolated, a little out of touch, and comfortable.  A bit like a womb. Manhattan on the otherhand, is firey, the element of water here is that things flow. It’s extremely welcoming on the one hand and and can be quick to turn on you, on the other, so  play yourcards smart. It’s opportunistic, creative, vibrant, moments away from a hot moment, however you want to spin that.  If Seattle is the womb, the woman, then New York City is the world, the male.

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I loved and still do love Seattle. I lived there 10 years, but I came toManhattan, to be chiseled and, to chisel. Almost immediately, I have had parts of my personality surface, which were not known or long felt lost. It’s helping me to develop a vision for what I really want and what I need to do to go get it. Now I know, this is a similar process everyone might at some point incur. I just missed it, so this is why I came to Manhattan, to learn, to be sharpened, and, to sharpen. For me, Manhattan has been about rising up. Alicia Keyes has it right when she sings, “New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do.” And for someone like me, I needed to come here to find that within, that there is nothing I can’t do.

I remember reading a book years ago, the opening lines were about leaving. Leave home the author declared. Leave the nest, leave mother’s womb, leave that place you feel so warm and comfortable. Listen to that voice, it is speaking from wisdom. To anyone who wants to live somewhere else, trust me, it’s because there is a whole life out there, your life, wanting to be unpacked, traversed, networked, connected, lit-up!  It may in fact, be time to take that step, where ever it is. Proceed boldly, plan enough,  and by all means, take a risk.
Brooklyn Bound

Happy One Year Anniverary!

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A  year ago this month, I was on a long weekend vacay in Manhattan from Seattle, visiting a guy.   No, it did not workout (it is definitely worthy of a romantic comedy however), nevertheless, he did in that weekend, manage to take me to his yoga studio,  Katonah Yoga.  Being that  I practice yoga asana regularly and am a yoga teacher, what he said to me as we entered the studio was a salient piece of advice, “just do what she says,” as he looked me straight in the eye, as if to reiterate the importance of trusting him and trusting her.

And listen I did.  In that first class, something deep, personal, and knowing was tapped into.  And in the same sentence, that which was tapped into, started to become less personal, less about protecting my past hurts.  As I have come to learn from Abbie, it is good to go to injured places and clean them up, not continue to protect and isolate them.

Abbie also often says, “in everything we do, we reveal ourselves. How we do anything says something about us.”

A little re-cap.  A year ago I lived in Seattle and was trying to date this guy in Manhattan.  Today, I live in Manhattan, the West Village to be exact and I am no longer trying to date this same guy.  However, I am definitely dating:)

So last week while making my way to one of my favorite coffee/bakery spots, S’Nice, which just closed, I ran into a fellow yoga practitioner at the bike shop next door.   We had never talked before, but whenever I see someone who practices regularly at Katonah Yoga, I feel, in some understood and slightly indescribable way, we are connected.

This may be in part because Abbie Galvin, our teacher, is yelling things across the room to different people. “Ben, get your ass in the air,”  “Nikki, square up, be precise about it, Nikki has tremendous range, she can go everywhere, but it doesn’t really serve her,” “it doesn’t occur to him to back bend, it’s not even in his neurology.”  And then for me, it’s often the same thing, “this girls got so much earth, she knows how to hold ground, she strokes hard, she’s too thoughtful.  You need more air, more bounce, more baking soda.”

After class one day, I overheard two women talking , they were talking about how taking class at Katonah is like therapy. I had to jump in.  Coming from someone who has been in therapy since the age of 16 trying to deal with my shit, and by shit I mean , feeling fucked up, like I  couldn’t deal with life or myself and everyone else around me seemed to be doing just fine.  This manifested in depression, anxiety, and bulimia.  Needless to say, I have a bit to say about the therapeutic process.

Measuring Up

Regarding Katonah and Abbie, I have had such profound insights from my time at there, that I recently realized, at first some disappointment, and then with optimism and hope, that I am re-building.  I get start over.  It’s not from nothing either and it’s not just me, but anyone can renovate, whenever they are ready.   Earlier in the week Abbie said, we don’t want to patch up our foibles, fix our tendencies, we have to renovate.  Clear it out and build anew.

It’s true, and because of Katonah Yoga and specifically Abbie Galvin, I feel I have been given tools, radar, and capacity to start renovations.  I am starting in the Basement (Hips).

I have struggled a lot in my life.  I grew up with low-grade depression that really became bigger than my understanding in high school and college.  I developed an eating disorder as a freshman in high school that is still something I have to stay aware of.  Mostly, I really began to hate myself.  My neurology became so fierce and degrading, that moments of reprieve from the degradation were a glimpse of some other planet.   Another life I could never access.  At once they were fantastic, lifting me away from present misery and almost in the same breath stifling, because I felt taunted and haunted by this glimpse of a free-er existence.

Okay, to be fair, alot has changed since I was 15, but hell, it has taken a long time for some of these things to formulate.

Regardless, this is the time. As I said before, Katonah Yoga methods and Abbie’s teaching along with her wise and perceptive  presence, have helped me access jubilence, radiance, steady ground, and understanding.

While setting up what was sure to be a long held half-pigeon one day, Abbie came over and gave me a look, “really Jessica,” “move your foot in closer, be nice to yourself.”  Just like it may not be in everyone’s neurology to backbend at first, it is not always my first response to be nice to myself.  After the million and first time Abbie says….it is developing a second nature. 

The woman I ran into at the bike shop said that Katonah had revolutionized her yoga and her life. Previously she had been practicing yoga for 10 years at a prominent studio with a highly visible teacher here in Manhattan (and I’ll add here that this prominent teacher now practices at Katonah). My friend on the bike said her body hurt and she started to see and hear things that really turned her away from the community.

She mentioned intimacy.

Then I mentioned integrity.

There is an intimacy at Katonah. We get to know each other because we practice in the light filled square room on the second floor, and we all face eachother.  We see each other, we make eye contact. We learn each others’ names, we assist one another and help each other have illuminated experiences in our poses.

As Abbie says, “it’s hard to get out of where your are stuck, where you are so personally invested, that is why we all try to look the same in a pose, the archetype of a pose” That’s where other people come in, literally pulling and twisting and lengthening. Then Abbie says, “now you let go of where you were so personally invested and have a spiritual experience, which is out of your frame of reference, you get over yourself.”

I know now where I am in a clearer way in my life, in this Renovation.  Not to mention, I have never lived in my hips like this before.  After months this winter of some very long and intense half pigeon, double-pigeon, gomukhasana-twist variations, my muscles have stopped fighting and my bones have found more potential.

My work and my growth have become clear because the work at Katonah is therapeutic.  I am able to access tools to know where I am stuck and where I am not.

In renovating the basement, clearing up and creating space I experience the potential to access my imagination and dreams, to have a vision that is more lifted and expansive.   And that is the experience at Katonah.

To leave you with another unforgettable Abbie quote while working with a student she said,  “her back is so strong,  she knows how to use her back.   Laborers have strong backs, but laborers don’t live in the penthouse.”

Touche` , I want to live in the Penthouse. It’s about damn time.

A big thanks to my ex-boyfriend for taking me to Katonah.  After my first class with Abbie, the way I practiced asana began to transform and I knew, I needed to move to Manhattan, not for the guy, but for me and for this practice.

Happy Anniversary!  It’s been an amazing first year!

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Oh Shit

Yup, it is getting to the end of October and I have neglected to write.

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I have thought to write multiple times and in fact,  I have many drafts waiting in cue to be published from the past few months….I just have not published them.

Here’s the deal, I struggle with going too deep in myself at times and that is when I often write.

As a fabulous yoga teacher here in Manhattan told me recently, “You think too much, you need to come out of yourself.  You need to be more flaky, not from your wounds, you know what I mean.”

First part of that statement is true and guess what, so is the second.

I am doing my best to try on “flaky” these days and, it is really fun to define what flaky really means.

It certainly does not mean I bail on people last minute or I talk excessively about clothes or which actors or actresses are dating/cheating/breaking up, although I am sure that is all well and fun in it’s own  sort of let-me-just-move-my-mouth, kind of way.

But being flaky is not why I have not written in nearly 3 months.

No, I have not written because I have been way too deep inside me, way too serious at times.  Life can get dark really fast when you are me at times.

Listen, I did not leave Seattle to get away from anything.  And I am well aware of the saying, “everywhere you go, there you are.”   What I was struggling with in Seattle, got amplified in Manhattan.   What I found refuge in  in Seattle, I am not so sure I want in Manhattan.  Why come to a new land and re-create a highly congruent picture of the past?

Reminder, sometimes you have to tread through some shit to play in fields of green, hell, fields of gold

(tip-off to the Sting song, since it is a favorite from high school).

I’ve been dredging through some shit and it has not been fun and I wrote about it and it might depress you too, so I am not publishing it.

I will say this.  While teaching yoga today, it hit me, that I don’t know what the hell I am doing in yoga land anymore.

I have been learning from some very compelling teachers lately and I have not been studying one style, but many.

“Oh shit” I thought, what do I even believe or stand for anymore as a yoga teacher.

I used to know exactly what it took to be a great presence of a teacher and right now, that definitely seems to be a bit lost in translation.

The things I used to use as my go to’s in my teaching, have nearly been forgotten.

My strengths no longer feel like strengths.  My weaknesses feel more visceral.

It’s interesting, to not rely on something that used to be reliable, like an old boyfriend or something.  Someone you had been with for years and though maybe the initial love you thought you shared diminished, you got so used to having that person, a habit, that the thought of being without was too scary to break things off.  Until one day it finally happens, whether it is you or him or her, someone finally says I have waited long enough for this to fizzle.  Regardless, whether you instigated the break-up or not, you still miss not getting to share life in some way with that person, because they were there, they did love you and care for you even if it was not what you ultimately wanted.  No one knows you like that when you first break things off.  You had come to rely on their presence, their support, their voice, whatever they would throw at you.

Yah, it is kind of like that.  Relying on things learned, in a different time and place.

I am not sure really what I want to figure out, but clarity would be nice all the way around.

I am hoping this is sort of a collapse, dissolution, cleaning the slate for some crazy beautiful new creation kind of moment(s), because that is what Manhattan throws.  Crazy beautiful (often smelly) energy moments.

More and more, every moment it occurs to me,

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

I hope you too, have some “oh shit” moments and I hope you are living and loving Fall, the season of such golden light.

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