I had no intention of abandoning Hope on Heels for so long, as all of the positive feedback (both internal and external) let me know I was doing something right. Something good for my soul, that connected me to the souls of others.
So what happened? I always found myself too busy, too tired, too pained, too hyper, too distracted to blog. Introspection is scary, especially when there’s a lot of “stuff” going on. When I have “stuff” going on, I tend to get very busy. It’s not all bad activity – quite the contrary! I work out and help people and chop veggies and read books and do puzzles and visit friends and get organized and… well, you get it. I’ll sleep, breathe and think about what’s really going on later. As in, not now… or now… or even now!
Taking time for a long, deep soul searching is not on the agenda for most folks, but I don’t have the luxury of not examining my resentments, fears, and faults. Svadhyaya, meaning self-study in Sanskrit, is my ticket to mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom. Without this self-study, I become obsessed with the idea that something external will fix my problem. Perhaps a pair of shoes or a phone upgrade will relieve me of my suffering? Nothing on the TV or interwebs remind me to practice prayer and meditation, for those particular solutions are kept in a dark, dusty corner of our societal tool shed – if they are in there at all!
So with no introspection, no blog. This isn’t an awesome recipe or crafting blog – it’s about my truth and connecting with others. No one wants to read my to-do lists, not even ME.
Also involved with not blogging is an element of punishment. I enjoy writing so denying myself the pleasure is a form of self-flagellation: “Bad girl, you’re suffering! That must mean you’re imperfect, a condition that needs immediate correction. No writing or true enjoyment for you until you return to an unattainably, unsustainably perfect way of being.” You can probably see where this line of thinking gets me. I’m not claiming to be rational – quite the opposite – but this is where I go when I am afraid.
And I’m only afraid like that when I forget that I am a woman of faith today, that I have tools to bring me back to center. Like practicing yoga through the “other” non- physical limbs of yoga, mostly the yamas and niyamas, with my primary focus on ahimsa (non-violence AKA not beating myself up) and santosha (contentment AKA accepting my self in my current, divine state). For a few reasons I am not engaging in asana (yoga “poses”) right now… but doing yoga off the mat is an entirely different post. A post that I hope you will see fairly soon.
Unlike many people I have a whole tool shed full of spiritual solutions that I have received through friends, mentors, students, therapists and good books. My gratitude for that can’t go unstated. No matter how far I’m willing to wade out into my pool of misery, I know that there’s always a warm and fuzzy answer waiting back on the shore. So here I am, all wrapped up and finally, finally back to connecting with you.
I want to say that I thank you for your support during this period of radio silence. I still felt you all there even while I was away and it gave me strength to do what needed to get done to find my way back here with truth and authenticity. And if I wasn’t going to be real, there was NO WAY I would be able to blog. I have no interest in transmitting my suffering to y’all, only to offer my personal experiences and the solutions to my challenges that I may help you with yours or simply assure you you’re not fumbling alone in the dark through this big Universe.
There’s a Maya Angelou quote that is popping up all over my life right now. You may have heard it in some form or another:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That’s some capital-T Truth right there. This thought, having been presented to me several times this week, is floating around in the background of the stewpot that is my mind. To me, people are valuable for what messages they deliver from the Universe. Everyone in the world has something to teach me, and that is something I practice being mindful of on a daily basis.
My main goal is to be the best me I can be and I pray for it every day. When I strive for the best behavior I can manage, it’s not necessary to beat myself up. Often I fall short of perfection, but that’s okay. My job as a human is to be imperfect, so I’m doing my job very well!
Before I get into what is clawing its way out of me today, I want to ask you how this quote makes you feel. Who does it remind you of? What do you think is the most valuable feeling some one can give you? Do you have a person in your life that gave/gives you this feeling? Do you try to give others that feeling, the one that you want to get from others?
The most challenging part of life for many of us is relationships. I’ll speak for myself here, but I know many of you will able to identify with what I experience. Love is not a simple emotion. I love everyone in my life, to one extent or another. I love them for their humor, for their beautiful lit-from-within smile, for being difficult and helping me practice patience and tolerance. I love people like I believe Mother Theresa loved people, which is unconditionally: just the way they, wonderfully or distressingly, are.
Just to back up for one moment: There was a time in my life when I had no capacity for love, empathy or compassion. I drowned my feelings, pushed away anyone that tried to help and spent every day just surviving. I was impatient, unsympathetic to others’ suffering because I was in so much emotional pain. It was a horrible way to live, and I think that helps me stay committed to how I’m living now because I never want to feel that way, ever, ever again. My happiness relies on me loving others!
This is how I try to love: by letting people know I see them and appreciate them. I let them know they’re worthy of other people’s time, not by telling them but by hearing what they say and responding in a thoughtful way. I let them know they’re worthy of love, by being kind, praising their accomplishments, giving them hope. That is the gentle, nurturing kind of love that I cultivate (and sometimes achieve) in my day to day life.
But there is another part of love. This is where aparigraha comes in! Yogic wisdom through Yoga Flirt taught me that aparigraha means non-grasping or non-possessive, the exact opposite of co-dependent. The modern term in this context would be detachment. If you can love someone and still practice aparigraha, the love will flourish and grow.
I have a co-dependent streak a mile wide, which I keep a nice big fence around most of the time. That fence allows me to love you, and manage to not possess or control you. Which means that if you do not ask for advice, I will not give it to you. It means that if you ask for advice and then don’t take it, I don’t feel personally affronted. It means that you may not take advantage of me. I will lend you an ear, or my time, but probably not any money.
Aparigraha can also look like tough love, and I will explain what that means to me. It means that if you insist on making the same mistakes over and over, I will not listen to you whine about it. It means if you are digging yourself a hole you aren’t equipped to climb out of on your own, I will let you. And if you are on the floor and aren’t asking for help to get up, I will not kick you, but I will leave you there. To you it may sound cold, callous or cruel… but I’ve been those and it’s very different.
Many people think they are helping a loved one, when they are actually enabling them. Enabling is not about the person being enabled, it’s about the enabler. I have the opportunity to enable on a daily basis and I choose not to as much as possible, even though it’s way less painful for me. It’s very difficult for me to watch my loved ones suffer, but trying to fix their problems so that I can feel better is selfish, not loving at all. I let go with love, allow them to learn the lessons they are meant to learn in this lifetime, let them suffer instead of swooping in to save the day. I check my motives when I am compelled to “help” a loved one. Am I truly being of service to them, or do I lack faith that things are as they should be, am I just looking for an opportunity to play the hero, the martyr, the saint? When you love someone and they are hell bent on self-destruction, if you really want to help them, get out of their way. The sooner they hit bottom, the faster they can start to heal and recover.
This is where we re-visit Ms. Angelou’s quote. When you are practicing aparigraha while a loved one suffers, they may not appreciate what you are doing very much. But in the long run, there’s hope that the miracle of recovery happens, they realize you gave them space to find their way, and they can thank you for putting yourself through some misery so that they got to get rid of theirs. I know how grateful I am to the people who do that for me! They make me feel like I have dignity, that I’m capable of making decisions and problem-solving on my own, that I’m worthy of their love.
I want to know what you think. Remember those questions I asked in the beginning of this post, a long (winded) time ago?
I’ll end with another quote, not from a famous person but from an old recovered drug addict named Sherman. Any time he gave a talk, he’d always end it by saying:
“If nobody told you they love you today, I love you madly.”
Last night was Level One graduation night, I can’t believe 8 weeks goes by so fast! The transformation in such a short amount of time is astonishing, and seeing an entire group of women become confident is absolutely priceless. Their revolutions and revelations bring back memories of my own experience and the remarkable changes I’ve seen in the ladies of the YF community around me over the last 4 years. They remind me why it’s so valuable to start (and then continue!) a yoga practice. The strength and resilience gained by the mind and body support the spiritual health created by a consistent use of breath and focus.
I believe that any woman would benefit from Yoga Flirt. Last night I heard the Level One graduates sharing their stories, amazed by their own boldness and bravery in the outside world after two months of class. There were hugs and promises to stay in touch, as they will have a new instructor for level two. As the last woman left the studio, she had an enormous smile on her face that was lit up from within. I had never seen that look on her face before, but I’ve seen it on many other students faces as they break through their self-consciousness and fears! The feeling I get as their instructor is completely indescribable. For me, being an instructor means I have been given the gift of learning from my students. It is truly humbling.
Come, be my teacher! Spring session Level One starts THIS THURSDAY, May 2nd at 5:45pm-7:15pm. It’s an 8 week session, and you can sign up on the Yoga Flirt website. As a little bit of incentive, I’ll give you $30 off of Level One if you sign up for the session that starts this week. There are only 5 spots left, so please let me know ASAP if you want to take advantage of the offer to ensure you get a spot. All classes max out at 12 women, to ensure enough quality time is spent with each student. If enough ladies want to take Level One when Thursday sells out, Cathy might attempt to create another time slot. I can’t guarantee it, but it’s very possible!
If you’re in the area and want to get started, please go to Facebook, like my page and private message me, or find me on Twitter and send me a private tweet. If you’re an out of town gal, do not fret… I will collaborate with Cathy to help spread the love if we can!
For Ms. Maddy Cooley and her suggestion on my Hope on Heels FB page that I talk about “the transition and evolution of (my) mindset” as I progressed through the program of Yoga Flirt. Ask and you shall receive!
As a preamble to my own experience, it should be understood that every woman has a different experience around YF, depending on where she is in her life when she starts it. I’ve seen women start believing in themselves, begin keeping the power over their lives, their selves, that they had previously chosen to give away instead. The curriculum for YF is carefully constructed to allow a woman to soften into herself, at her pace. It allows her choices, to be made in a safe, mirror free and dimly lit environment where no one is allowed to judge. The program encourages going within and allowing a little inner naughty girl to emerge if it feels good to do so.
My personal transformation and evolution was unexpected! I felt pretty spiritually grown up, with a healthy dose of humility, gratitude and a dedication to service when I moved from LA to the Central Coast in January of 2008. Thinking I would be able to make friends and find ways to stay active in my spiritual life in a reasonable amount of time, I was not prepared for the vast emotional results of a physical change of location. Things like what grocery store to shop at, where to get my hair and nails done, and which restaurants to avoid (stuff I just knew in my hometown) were more disconcerting than they probably should have been. Adding to all the change was my 6 month old marriage, and quitting my job of 13 years… I guess I should’ve known I was going to struggle as much as I did.
It was my husband’s idea to move here, so I didn’t say a whole lot to him about the isolation I felt out of concern that he might feel bad. I didn’t want to talk to my friends in LA about how I felt out of concern they may feel sorry for me (or worse, have already forgotten all about me! Absurd). I certainly did not have any local friends that I could share my feelings of alienation and homesickness. Surely you won’t be surprised that I was unable to keep up pretense for very long! A very sudden and severe panic attack hit me while I was sitting at a red light in my new little town, all turned around trying to find a local shop. Breathing was difficult, big fat tears rolled down and I just gave in to the self-pity that I had been living in for months. That forced me to face the facts… which was that I was choosing to isolate myself and needed to ask for help, and that my spiritual self was atrophying without any nourishment. Nothing was even about to get better otherwise.
Lacking friends nearby, I struck out to at least practice meditation in a group setting at a nearby yoga studio. How that turned into pole dancing has been explained in one of my first posts! Much to my surprise, the Yoga Flirt intro class I took was revolutionary for me, I knew I’d found something to love. I didn’t leave with new friends or anything but I did feel a sisterhood with the other attendees, and was so energized that I knew I dared hope I had found a little piece of salvation.
When regular class started, my particular brand of female perfectionism involves being a teacher’s pet, so if I had to let my hair down both literally and figuratively, I was gonna be the floppiest noodle in the studio. No one was going to be better than me at letting go. If that’s sounds silly, it’s because it IS. It’s hard to have an internal experience when one eye is open, making sure no one in the room looks as relaxed as you are! I was also determined to nail the warm up movements and execute them perfectly, which had a positive result of giving me a lot of strength in a relatively short period of time.
Being strong meant that I could usually execute the new moves we learned on the first or second try. When I realized that I was developing a reputation as “the strong one” I felt humbled and grateful… and also like I belonged somewhere which I wanted very much. I was a pole dancer! The loneliness I felt started to fade as I showed up in class week after week, level after level, with the same ladies. (We were a very enthusiastic class, four of us were instructors at one point or another and two of us still are, four years later!) The result of that was I came home exhausted but invigorated, ready to face the world. Yoga Flirt gave me my swag back.
The yoga wisdom lit me up spiritually, the physical activity gave me something in which to channel my restless, free-floating anxiety, and the complexity of some of the moves even fired up a neuron or two. One of my best girlfriends in LA had always talked to me about checking on the PMS list: Physical, Mental, Spiritual. As in, what did you do for your PMS today? The answer for me was that I hadn’t in a little over a year. Now that I was back to tending the proverbial garden of my existence, other life-stuff got easier to deal with and my re-awakened mind was open to possibilities outside of class.
I attended every 90 minute weekly class, I went to every extra practice I could. I got even stronger, I started developing in-studio friendships that eventually led to being invited into the lives of some of my classmates. I participated in my practice with a dedication that I can still be surprised by… but pole dancing is so freaking fun it’s addictive. I know very few women that understand the power they can, if they allow themselves, harness over their lives simply by inhabiting and owning and loving the body that they are in. My body became a symbol of my strength when I started loving it in it’s present shape and size.
I will end by sharing the biggest epiphany about my body (and your body too) that I have ever, ever had in 37 years: One night in class, a lady that our society would typically consider unattractive due to her size, got up and danced for us. She owned every single ounce of her curvy body, gyrated and crawled and spun in various states of undress without any noticeable hesitation. I saw she had a roll around her middle, and that her thighs were bigger than the girls I saw in the magazines and I didn’t even care because she looked so unbearably hot and sexy that I just knew, in that moment, I was seeing what men see every single time they look at us in an intimate setting.
As an experiment, I used my husband as an unsuspecting guinea pig. I replaced my normal sex mantra: “Thank you for being willing to overlook my hideous flaws and tolerate my naked body. I’m sorry about my (insert your main insecurity here) and am grateful you are still able to do me the favor of having sex with my obviously flawed person,” with a new one that went something like “yes I know it is hard to believe that I’m letting you touch my fiercely sexy curves, but if you worship me as I deserve I will reward you with even more of my deliciousness. You are welcome.” The results were… beyond what I had expected. And I mean that in the sexiest way possible.
Practice. Practice. A spiritual practice, a yoga practice. Same thing, when it comes down to it. Practice being imperfect, and having a sense of humor when you perceive failure. If you really want to be a better person than you are, learn to laugh at yourself more. Become an expert at it!
Recently in class I fell for the first time, I mean hit the deck hard, right on my thankfully extra squishy backside. It didn’t hurt, I was super close to the floor, plus I’m blessed with a big ole booty. As I was getting up, a gal in class said “You were laughing even as you fell,” as if she thought that was really cool. I thought back and realized she was right. On the pole, realizing a fall was imminent, I started laughing because I had managed to tangle myself up so badly! It was pretty funny, maybe you had to be there (maybe you have been there!).
Many of the people I do spiritual work with seem to think that being a grown up means that one has to take “self” very seriously. Maybe it does, and that’s why I don’t feel very “grown up.” This happens every year around my birthday: I start wondering just when I am going to stop feeling like I’m a teenager, even though I’m not sure that I even want to feel older. To me, it’s quite enough to settle for being responsible and dependable, and leave the rest of adulthood to the stodgy types.
It is said that age is a state of mind. To be honest, I don’t try that hard to be an adult about things. To me, that seems really, really boring.
Yoga Flirt helps me keep a youthful mindset. It doesn’t hurt that practicing Yoga Flirt involves swinging myself around on a vertical monkey bar!! When I first started YF, I did take it seriously. I wanted the teacher to see how wonderful my form was, how well I performed the moves. I was up in my head the whole time, paying no attention to what my body was feeling or the transformation available to me in that magical studio. While it is still tempting once in a while to compare myself to the other ladies in class, tempting to become discouraged enough to stop practicing and go find something that I can be the absolute best at immediately (HA!), I remember the yoga philosophy that I’ve learned in every level.
Thankfully the lessons in the beginning of class usually dispel that drive for perfection, shifting the focus to the practice instead. Practice doesn’t often mean perfect, but focusing on the end result takes away from the journey anyway. Another thing that seems “adult” is being results driven, disregarding the opportunities to experience what happens between setting and achieving a goal. There’s so much life that happens, while we’re waiting for results… and remembering to be present in the moment takes practice.
Practice being imperfect. Practice being quick to laugh (especially at yourself). Practice being quick to cry tears of joy or pain. Practice asking for help, admitting you don’t know everything. Practice being afraid and doing it anyway. Practice having a light heart and an open mind. Practice trusting that there is enough love, money, time in the Universe for you to get exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. Practice breathing, pausing, detaching with love. Practice yoga. Or even better, practice Yoga Flirt!
I recently visited the Yoga Flirt website to find my testimonial, written back in 2009. I had been in class with the same set of ladies through level 4, but most of the ladies I joined up with in level 5 had been in that level for a few sessions. We did the normal structure of class, with dancing at the end. It was all challenging and interesting and fun, but when the dancing started it just turned… POW!
Here’s a piece of my testimonial:
“…I attended my first level 5 class last Monday, and I could barely keep my jaw off the floor. I was so amazed and moved by the power those women had over their bodies, and it made me realize the power I had developed over mine. Not just in physical strength, but the power to own my physical beauty, my sensuality and sexuality! … I can’t describe the feeling of freedom that comes from completely letting go and finding out what happens when you don’t hold back! It can be scary, but it’s SO worth it.”
That first level 5 class has left an impression in my mind, even after all this time. Reading this testimonial back, I realize that somewhere along the line I relinquished the power I felt over my physical body. I started having severe, constant neck pain and it was so physically and emotionally exhausting that I barely had any energy for living. I became hopeless. Exercising was out of the question, but eating for comfort was easy enough. The result of that is something I’ve already shared: I’m heavier than I’ve ever been.
The good news is that I’m taking the power back. I am committed to becoming physically fit! More exercise (every time I get a chance!) and listening to my body about when it’s time to eat are the two most important actions. Slow and steady wins the race, so I’m staying off the scale for now and just doing the footwork.
Revisiting that testimonial also renewed my love of Yoga Flirt. It’s easy to forget how much my life changed that first year of pole dancing/yoga philosophy lessons, but it changed quite a bit. YF helped me deepen my spiritual life, I feel closer to the higher power that I believe in. This tells me that the divine powers that be can deliver spirituality in the most unexpected ways. It pays to have an open mind.
There are a lot of great yoga blogs, I follow some of them (see right sidebar). They know infinitely more than I do about yoga! What I do know about yoga is this: It’s not just about holding poses and all the physical benefits that one gets from consistent practice. If you dive in just a little deeper you will find that there are great suggestions on how to live a more peaceful, contented life. Who doesn’t want that?
I encourage you to check out a book about yoga at the library, ask your yoga teacher what they know, or just google yoga and get the low-down on what yoga is really about. Maybe there’s something for you, a tidbit of deep wisdom that will touch your heart, mind or soul and give you that glow that so many a yogi display. Let me know what you find!
The great thing about being on a spiritual path is that I’m an eternal student! Every situation is -eventually – seen as a growth opportunity. Sometimes an experience is painful, but it’s never a waste unless I fail to learn the lesson. A lesson is bound to show up over and over again until it sinks in… I say this from personal experience! Quite a bit of personal experience, unfortunately.
Being an eternal student requires having a willingness to admit I don’t know everything. It also requires maintaining an open mind, which is how Yoga Flirt managed to fall into my life. My assumption about pole fitness was oh so wrong! I can only hope to be that positively incorrect in the future. No doubt I will be, over and over.
As mentioned numerous times, I do so love Yoga Flirt. It has made me realize “stuff” about myself that nine years of self-study hadn’t been able to reveal. You can’t know what you don’t know, if you don’t even know it’s there! (Ya know?) The shadow of my childhood was so integrated into my unconscious mind that I didn’t realize I was still suffering, unnecessarily, from the effects of my early experiences. It was so shot through the fabric of my behaviors and feelings that I just thought it was normal.
Thank goodness I couldn’t be more wrong about what I thought “normal” looked and felt like! I honestly thought I had recovered as much as I could in certain areas of my life.
Little did I know every single YF class begins with a lesson or discussion involving a yogic principle and how it can apply in class… or life. And when I started being able to successfully translate my in-class practice into my every day life, I experienced small seismic shifts in my fundamental understanding of what it means to be a woman.
The realization that I’d made it to my 30s without knowing what kind of woman I had the potential to be was a lesson in humility, and a major turning point in my spiritual progress. A whole new set of possibilities appeared to me, along with a framework upon which to build them.
For the sake of brevity I will address those possibilities and their foundation in another post. I leave you with a photo of the world’s most awesome garland: