Life Goes On

Oh, how things have changed. How quickly life can twist and turn and end up looking completely different in the blink of an eye. My life looks much different than it did a couple of weeks ago. This change has been traumatizing, eye-opening. and heart-opening to say the least.

As I discussed in my last post, I was supposed to be moving to Colorado at the end of the month with my other half since we weren’t financially able to stay in the Bay Area. This news was hard for me to stomach since my teaching career was taking off and I was in the middle of my 300-hour teacher training, which was already paid for. I came to terms with the reality of our situation and remained positive about our future together.

Two weeks ago, my relationship came to an abrupt end. It ended in a way that was very hurtful and confusing for me and I was left with nothing, but questions. I went into survival mode and decided I had to leave for Colorado early. My good friend, who I will forever be so grateful for, flew out the very next day, rented a car and drove me back with my two cats in a straight 20-hour shot. I cried the whole way as I tried to sober up to the reality of what was happening. I didn’t know what was happening.

I got to my parent’s house and spent days in bed, not eating or sleeping. In a matter of days, I had quit all of my classes, I quit my teacher training, I lost the love of my life (or who I thought was), and I was living with my parents with no car and no money. I began to realize that I may not have known the person that I moved across the country for as well as I thought, which made me delirious with sadness and sick to my stomach. My days consisted of staring at the wall in a catatonic state or sobbing hysterically. I had never known such hurt, such shock and I was certain that it would eat me alive.

In the midst of my grieving, I had enough clarity to tell myself that I had to stay sane. Me, myself and I discussed how important it was to keep the mind clean and clear, it was very important that I didn’t go downhill too far. I knew it meant I had to sit. I had to meditate, I had to engage in sanity. Surprisingly enough, I had the gumption to peel myself out of bed from day one and go to the Boulder Shambhala Center to sit. The first day I went, it was a Sunday, I sat for three hours. I’d never sat for that long, I never knew I could especially amidst the enormous heartache I was experiencing. That day was pivotal for me, it was the day that I realized that I could endure immense emotional suffering. That day was a game changer for me, I realized how strong I was. I still grieved heavily for days and as I did, I continued to go back and sit. I didn’t do it to avoid what I was going through, I did it to BE the experience rather than separate myself from it. I felt ALL of my agony fully and completely, I felt every inch and every ounce of it. I still am.

Not only has my meditation practice been crucial for my recovery, but my amazing family, friends and yoga communities welcomed me with open arms and open hearts. As word spread of my return, I received countless messages and phone calls offering love and support from all directions. Colorado, because of YOU I have discovered how deeply and fully I can love. Because of you, I am able to heal more completely. Words can’t describe the gratitude I have for all of the support you’ve given me. Thank you from the bottom of my full heart.

To my students in SF, Oakland and Berkeley– you will always have a piece of my heart, you are a big part of my story. I wouldn’t be the teacher that I am today without you and each of you was essential to my growth during my time with you. I couldn’t be more apologetic about my sudden disappearance, but please know how hard it was for me to leave without any proper goodbyes. You are always welcome to my classes if you make it out to the 303!!

I taught my first class this week, it felt like the whole gang was back together. I can’t quite describe the feeling I had of being in one of the first studios I ever taught in with many of my first students. It was electric to say the least.

My amazing parents who have been there for me without question or hesitation, have been of such help in nursing me back to health. Their patience and willingness to do whatever they can to support me impresses me more than words can say. I wouldn’t be able to put my life back together without them.

Stephanie, you are my angel. Your acts of kindness go above and beyond anything I ever could have dreamed of in a friend and I can’t wait to live together with all of our cat children.

At the end of the day, I feel more love and gratitude for this life and everyone in it. While I was very disappointed in how my relationship ended, it was THE MOST valuable relationship of my life in terms of spiritual growth. I was introduced to so many things that have so positively impacted who I am at the core of my being. This break-up has made me a much kinder and more patient person. I see this coming into play in each of my relationships, especially the one I have with myself. If I could give any advice to anyone, it would be that hitting rock bottom is just building the foundation for us to wake up and live more fully and lovingly in this world. Nothing is certain, nothing is forever and that knowledge is where our power lies.

Namaste.

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Next Chapter

It turns out that living in one of the most expensive areas of the country is hard. I’m not going to lie, I had several thoughts of, “I am somehow special and will persevere through the impossible.” I was naive to think that I could relocate to San Francisco and make it as a yoga and fitness instructor if I just work tirelessly with a driven attitude and an open heart. The truth is, I could teach 50 classes a week and I wouldn’t be able to afford to live here. I fought that reality for while and hoped that through some sort of magic, everything would work out.

It is with a very sad and heavy heart that I am announcing that I need to leave California. Even though my career is taking off in a way that I never could have imagined, I’m not able to survive in an area that caters mostly to people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I am leaving my 500-hour training, I am leaving my Lululemon ambassadorship and most importantly, I am leaving my students and the many classes that I worked hard to secure and build. I am leaving a life that I couldn’t have even dreamed of living in, a life that I was beyond grateful to participate in every day.

I can’t explain what the shock and denial of losing my life here felt like. I went through days of feeling like I didn’t understand reality, like I had taken too many drugs and was having a bad trip. I have experienced unimaginable emotional torture at the disbelief/realization that I am leaving everything that I am so proud of creating here. My body has responded, it has became weak and achy, I feel like I have the flu. I feel like I am losing myself, but most saddening to me is that I am losing my students.

Alright so, the initial shock has worn off. I’m sure there will be many more fits of panic in the mean time, but right now my head is in a clear place and I want to take this time to connect. My first thoughts were to completely shut down my website and social media and shut everyone out since I have no idea what is going on with my life. I am leaving California at the end of July and will be moving back to Colorado. I’ve gone back and forth about whether I want to teach again. This will be the third time I’ve had to start my yoga career from the ground up. Is it worth it? Is it worth spending another year trying to build classes and a student base AGAIN? This time without a car?

Of course it is. I will teach again. I will continue to do the one thing that rings true in my heart. I am coming back to Colorado with a heart full of love and gratitude for the experience I’ve had over the past year and a half. I am coming back to friends that I know love me from the bottom of their hearts and will be waiting for me with open arms. I am coming back to parents that are equally excited to see me and will provide me with temporary relief from the paranoia of not knowing if the rent will be paid or if there will be food on the table. I am coming back to students who witnessed me start teaching over five years ago and stuck with me until I left. I am coming back with the ability to offer support to anyone who is going through a hard time. I come back knowing how to handle crisis. I come back with experience that will allow me to show up as a teacher in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to if my life weren’t falling apart. I come back more gentle, more kind and more compassionate.

I’ve realized that the majority of my suffering is due to my loss of identity. I am starting to understand a little bit about “egolessness”, which is discussed a lot in Buddhism. It’s true, we put so much effort into maintaining our identities and we feel threatened by and resist anything that challenges and jeopardizes it. I am feeling extremely threatened and I am working hard to keep my heart and my mind open to this loss. While I’m losing my identity, I am still love at my core. I am still dedicated to being kind to myself and others, even if I’m no long Erin Wimert, San Franciscio yoga instructor, Lululemon ambassador, blah, blah, blah. I am still love and that will never change.

This is where I am and I am making a promise to my students, my friends, my family and anyone who finds comfort in reading my words, that I will not shut down, I will not shut anyone out my experience and I will be open and honest about my life moving forward. I am here as a source of strength or an open ear to anyone who is experiencing financial crisis or any kind of crisis for that matter. I am forever a teacher, forever a student and I hope you stick with me as move into this new chapter of my life. Namaste.

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Opening to Fear

It’s not until recently that I started to contemplate the meaning of fearlessness. What does that mean? I contemplate the meaning of this as I find myself in one the scariest times of my life. I suppose this is taboo topic matter, but I attribute my devotion to meditation for my lack of shame and embarrassment about where I find myself now. My household is experiencing a financial crises and things are coming to a tipping point. Things are about to either change for the better with a slow accent out of a hole that’s been dug or…or I can’t even fathom the alternative. I can’t even wrap my head around what will happen if things don’t take a turn for the better. I don’t know what’s coming up for me in my life and I’m scared. I’m scared of the unknown and my heart is pounding.

So what do we normally do when we get scared? In Buddhism, they talk about fear being the birth place of the six root kleshas or poisons: desire, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt and opinion. The more we engage in these conflicting emotions, the tighter the grip fear has on us. Fear comes from our lack of understanding in our basic goodness. In a world that praises people’s ability to obtain money and material possessions, I have battled with seeing my goodness over the past couple months. I have retreated from my friends, my family and my relationship. I have retreated from the world.

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My retreat from the world has spawned the beginning of my home practice. Feeling incapable of facing real live people at a studio in the midst of experiencing paralyzing fear, I made just enough room for myself in my small apartment to roll out my mat. The first few times I did this, I sat down riddled with anxiety and got up immediately. I wasn’t yet ready to heighten and connect to my experience through my practice. I often went back to reading in bed as a means to ease myself.

The book that shifted my perspective enough to eventually dive into my experience was Smile at Fear by Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. As he called out and discussed each obvious and underlying neurotic thought and behavior linked with fear, I began to see myself clearly in a downward spiral that I would only be able to escape if I chose to make friends with fear and use it as an opportunity to connect to my humanness. Fear has cracked open my mind and woken me up, I can confidently say that I am a more awake and receptive human because of it. I have lost attachment to hoping that life will unfold a certain way or that I am somehow special and deserving of special treatment. I surrender to the universe, I surrender my fixed thoughts and notions, I surrender any grip I may have had on life. I have nothing to offer, but kindness and compassion. I have discovered my true nature through this ordeal, I am love and awareness.

I rolled out my mat and practiced for the first time with fear pulsing through my body. I backbended and felt the fear nestled in the middle of my chest, expand and drain into my arms, hands and fingers. I applied patience and discipline to my breath, which arrived shaky and short, and found space within my body to move into and feel more at home in. I began to see that I can show up as an awake individual, while feeling scared and confused. Home practice gives us the space to see that as everything is on our own terms. The point of being fearless is not to not feel fear. The point is to recognize it rather than avoid it, which keeps us chained. The point is to be really conscious of how we respond with our thoughts and actions.

While I’d like to say that since I’ve had all these insights I’ve become a total warrior, the truth is that I’m still struggling. I still find myself pacing around the apartment with my hands on my head while huffing and puffing about what’s going to happen. I am constantly reminded of my current reality when luxuries I used to take for granted such as buying groceries or putting gas in the car are barely option. I am beyond relieved when I get to go teach and can take a break from thinking about myself to help others. Connecting with my students is what gives me the confidence to come home and feel the fear, either through meditation or home practice.

I invite you to experience fear with me. Fear is happening all the time, it’s our neurotic behavior. It happens every time we avoid eye contact. It happens when we pull out our phones incessantly because we can’t just be with ourselves and feel. It happens when we edit or embellish ourselves to get into someone’s good graces. In a time where technology rules, corporations are getting what they want, a society of checked out people who are exhibiting obsessive-compulsive behaviors because of addiction to distraction. I invite you to put down the cell phone, the television remote, the bottle and feel something real. I invite you to experience fear with me and develop a relationship with it. What does it feel like? What language does it speak via your thoughts and actions? How do we evolve when we practice patience and let it run its course? Fear is an emotional hook, it’s fluid, it moves around and changes shapes, meaning it’s workable. Fear will wake you up to reality, fear will allow you feel MORE. Only when we allow ourselves to experience fear will we connect to being human. Only we open to fear, can we become fearless.

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Off My Game.

*I’d like to begin by saying that my encounter of this trip is through my perspective only. I’m sure that there are many aspects of it that I am blind to and many things that I have projected*

Last week I co-led my first retreat. It was in Belize. The pictures are amazing. The locations were amazing. The guides, students and everyone that I came into contact with were amazing. I was in the sun, on the beach, in the jungle…what more could I ask for? As we discuss a lot in yoga, happiness is not attained through external sources, rather it’s cultivated from within. We could have the “perfect” set of circumstances, but if we are not at peace in our minds and our hearts, no amount of things, stuff or people will satiate us. This is what my post is about. I am writing this because since the moment I returned, I’ve been bombarded with the question, “How was it? Was it amazing?!” With much chagrin, I force a smile and say something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh, it was incredible!”

Before I left, I felt like I was at the top of my game. I had started my 300-hour teacher training, I had a lot of momentum with my meditation practice, and was feeling really good about settling into my running and yoga routine. I was feeling great about teaching and connecting to my students, which is really what I live and breathe for. My mind and my body were clean and strong. My heart was open.

The high of the first couple days of the trip was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. This was my first time travelling anywhere far and I excitedly soaked everything up like a dog at the park. I had assumed that all the training I’d done (with my mind) was going to allow me to show up as a thoughtful, inquisitive and confident person. Over the last year, I’ve cleaned up my act a lot. I quit drinking, I cleaned up my diet, I began a serious meditation practice, I’ve calmed down.  A LOT. I’ve calmed down as a teacher, a student and a communicator. I had high hopes of being able to connect with people on a tender and vulnerable level with this new sense of calm. I expected myself to show up in a way that would allow me to showcase who I am and what I do.

I realized quickly that calm was not the name of the game nor the vibe of the trip.  It began to feel like it was going to be hard to for me to hold space as a quieter person amongst a large group of extroverts. As someone who doesn’t compete for attention, I felt defeated early on, I began to doubt myself. This doubt was soon followed by the realization that I was 3,200 miles away from home and it would be a while before I was back in my comfort zone.

The doubt that seeped into my mind gained momentum throughout the trip. This doubt led me to compromise myself, I felt like I took 20 steps backwards. Through doubt, I began to feel separate from the group, like background noise. I felt like I must be the only person in the world who was experiencing what I was, that feeling of separateness stung my heart. I started to second guess myself as a teacher, I drank, I gossiped, I complained, I let my meditation practice go, I checked out, I became glued to my phone. I became the person I used to be. I felt like my training had gone out the window. To top things off, I got a cheese pizza with extra cheese and a caesar salad on the way home, which was very UN-vegan of me. Ultimately, I got lost in a head game. I was ashamed about this, I thought I had head games all figured out. My head games lasted all. week. long. 3,200 miles away from home.

I came home feeling depressed and depleted. My body and mind felt icky and I had no motivation to do anything. I gorged on food for the first couple days that I was back to…ground myself? To prove my existence? This is it, folks. This is how dangerous the mind can be. Even when we’ve reached an unstoppable feeling, even when we think we’ve got things figured out, the mind can twist reality in a way that you never thought it could. While they don’t necessarily represent what is true, my experiences and internal struggles were REAL. My suffering was real, I felt it strongly. Take a step further back, was the cause of my suffering real? Is the cause of most of our suffering real?

I began to crawl out of my hole a few days ago. After a lot of crying and venting, after I decided to get real and honest about what was going on in my mind, after looking at the behavior that I wasn’t proud of, I began to see clearly again. I begrudgingly went back to my meditation cushion and saw all of my confusion. As I have given myself some time to digest last week, it’s clearer than ever to me: doubt in our innate goodness is the most toxic thought pattern that we can feed and it can infect us like the flu. Doubting our basic goodness is aggressive. From a Buddhist point of view, it is best to cut through aggression with gentleness and kindness. The last few days have been full of forgiveness, I had to forgive myself for getting lost and everything that came along with it. I had to forgive myself for not trusting the natural unfolding of life and forgetting that it’s not about me.

I’m feeling well today. I see my experience now as just another piece to the puzzle. The puzzle of Truth. Attaching to hope and expectations is counterproductive. Being open-minded and becoming conscious of our thoughts of self-doubt is how we can liberate ourselves. We can only do this by staying rooted in the present.  The road is not easy and it requires honesty and vulnerability. We shouldn’t believe everything we think. We could check in with our witness, our observer, that part of us that sees without bias. My aim behind this post, is to be honest, raw and naked about my experience to show that suffering is what we have in common. We are alike in that we are all at the mercy of our minds to extent that we allow it. This is our connection, our suffering and our desire for happiness and joy. We are not separate. We are one.

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The Importance of Discipline

Incorporating more discipline into my life on and off the mat has brought me much happiness these days. I will be the first to admit that things haven’t always been this way. In fact, I didn’t fully understand of the power and impact it would have on my life until recently. My days usually consisted of me sleeping in until the last minute, going to work, coming home and lounging on the couch until bedtime. I only cleaned if someone would come over, I had accepted that I was messy and had no intentions of ever changing. Because my routine was sloppy, so was my mind. Because my mind was messy, so was my environment. My messy environment led me to feel purposeless at home. It wasn’t until I started diving into the world of Buddhism and understanding the importance of tidiness in my routine, my home and my actions that I really incorporated discipline into my life.

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Bringing discipline into our lives gives us purpose. It creates a space for us to learn and grow in. Without discipline, we are left feeling aimless and wandering, which leads to sadness and confusion. My house was always a mess, I had no routine and I lacked willpower. I knew what it meant, but I didn’t practice it.

I recently brought this discussion to my yoga classes and invited students to bring more mindfulness to their practice not only with their body, but with their breath and their mind. Bringing “fire” to poses is one way we can bring discipline into our practice– flexing the feet, spreading the fingers, squeezing the inner thighs to name a few. Some of the ways we can work with exercising the mind in this manner could include moving slower than your mind wants to go, focusing the eyes instead of them wandering or darting around and continually coming back to the question, “What am I doing?”. What are doing? Are you in Warrior II thinking about lunch later? In an effort to help people to reign in awareness of their breath, I’ll say, “With every inhale, think to yourself ‘in’, with every exhale, think to yourself ‘out’.” I also asked students to tidy up their transitions; rather than dragging their foot back from a lunge to a plank, LIFT it up and step it back. Put some though into how you’re moving instead of just going on auto pilot, be an active participant in your experience.

Practicing discipline on the mat can give us a glimpse into what it will feels like to incorporate it off of the mat. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, said, “How you conduct yourself when you’re alone is important.” When I first heard that, it meant nothing to me. But now, today, bringing meaning to each and every thing that I do, especially when I’m alone, is how I live my life. I had the realization that if I truly want to take control of my life and my future, I needed to act like it. I don’t stuff food into my mouth mindlessly anymore, I now question where it came from and carefully consider how it will make me feel. I stopped looking at my Facebook and Instagram outside of using it for business. Netflix has been replaced with books. I wake up earlier and go to yoga.  I make sure the kitchen and the cat boxes are cleaned. The laundry gets folded when it comes out of the dryer. It used to be like pulling teeth to get me to do this stuff, but taking charge of these monotonous tasks when they come up is what makes me feel like a far more a put-together person. I AM a more put-together person. And when meditation becomes a part of your life, these once-ordinary tasks become magical and worthwhile. Meditating while you’re folding the laundry or washing the dishes gives you the space to contemplate how you’re bringing more meaning and purpose into your life and that feels GOOD. Bringing discipline into your life is like showing yourself how important you are in this life, it’s how we connect to our inner warrior.

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At the end of the day when it’s time to lounge, I feel accomplished.  And I am far more energized for the next morning because I feel organized in my life. Of course, people can go crazy with discipline and go overboard but I’ve found that the majority of people have the opposite problem. As someone who desperately wanted change and structure in their life for years, I hope to inspire you to make some small changes on your own, to take charge of your life by rearranging your priorities. As someone who was lazy and uninspired for a very long time, I want you to know, if can make these changes, anyone can.

“Without discipline, the small mind of ‘me’ takes over, because that’s our long-established habit. Our mind begins to drift. When we have no direction, it’s hard to be content. We become edgy, anxious, or depressed. We become sloppy, which affects our mental alertness. We become dull and unexpressive in our communication and less productive in our work. We study, yet we don’t learn. Our colleagues feel as if we’re dragging them down. With discipline, we are making a container in which we can grow. Only through discipline can we truly experience our vast mind, the outer limits of our possibilities.”

-“Ruling Your World” by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

 

The Best Thing I Ever Did For Myself

A few weeks ago, I was having some issues with my stomach. It concerned me a lot, but it was important to me to try and read my body and fix the problem myself. I cut out all sugar, except for my homemade juices and protein fruit smoothies. I cut coffee, gluten, and dairy (I was already not eating meat and I cut alcohol last year). This was the most drastic change I’d ever made in my diet. This was a BIG deal, I had to change everything including how I looked at food. I’d tried many times in the past to start eating better, but it would last all of five days and I’d be back to eating how I used to: lots of cheese, sugar, lots of sugar, lots of bread. This time around was different though: I was looking at food as a means to repair myself. I was looking at it as something worth really putting some thought and effort into. I don’t know about anyone else, but as I get older, I appreciate my body more than ever. We start to see that we’re not invincible, and when the body is not functioning properly, neither is the mind. We are shut off from a part of ourselves, which causes us to feel a bit disconnected from reality. I wanted my body to function properly, and I was ready to put in the hard work to do it.

The best thing that I ever did for myself was to break my emotional attachment to food and change my diet to a whole food, plant-based diet. This means I only eat fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, nuts, seeds) and whole grains. I try to eat food that is as close to its natural state as it can be. If you were to tell me six months ago that I would be eating like this, I would have said you were crazy. I feel more amazing than I ever thought I could. Since I’ve changed my diet, I’ve become a sponge for information. I am so alert and so clear that I’m no longer interested in distracting myself with anything other than what’s going on right now. I feel like some space has been cleared up in my mind for me to wholeheartedly engage in the present moment. Social media, television and my cell phone have lost their appeal. Everything that was going badly for me, whether it be in my body or mind, is now good. And everything that was good, is now more good. My sleep situation is astonishingly better. There is no way that I could go back to my old ways of looking at food. I would never intentionally put myself at risk of not feeling this way. My taste buds are adjusting and now I crave all healthy food. This has been one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.  It’s been one of the biggest wake up calls of my life: my mind does not rule me. Wow! My perspective on life has been completely blown apart, I feel like I’m floating on some cosmic cloud of bewilderment. I AM IN CONTROL OF MY WORLD.

When I realized I had turned into a Vegan (it’s still crazy to hear myself say that), I wanted to do more research on what that meant, on a moral level. I want to be very clear about something: you can not watch footage of animals in slaughter houses or dairy farms and NOT question the moral fiber of your being. You can’t see that and not take a good look at yourself and ask if that’s what you want to participate in. On top of the immense suffering that animals are enduring, the livestock industry releases MORE carbon dioxide into the ozone layer than the transportation industry does.

So let me get this straight, I was part of a problem that causes massive suffering to animals (not to mention the workers in the factories) AND is destroying the planet AND I didn’t get it through my thick skull until now? I’d never watched the movies of animals waiting to be slaughtered or milked. I didn’t watch because I didn’t want to know the truth about their shorts lives and what it looked like. How could I not want to know the truth?

I was watching Samsara a couple of months ago and a scene popped up of slaughter and dairy houses. I had no idea that I was going to see it and it shook me to my bones, at that moment I vowed never to eat meat again. I then watched Food Inc, Fast Food Nation, Vegucated, Earthlings and Forks Over Knives (this one really solidified how healthy the vegan diet is and shows strong links between animal protein and cancer and heart disease, a must watch). You guys, we live in a country where there are more than enough non-animal products to get all of our vitamins and minerals from, in particular protein and calcium. I am not interested in pushing anyone in any direction, I want to let people know what is up. I want people to know that they don’t have to drag ass during the daily grind because their diet makes them feel lethargic and unimpressed with life. What you put into your body is EVERYTHING and that becomes more apparent as we become more conscientious of ourselves in this human experience. There is an option to get everything that we need nutritionally by means other than the barbaric and suicidal manner that we’re doing it in. On top of that, we can feel like a brand new version of ourselves. I’ve reached out to other vegans and have found that my experience is shared by many. The energy, the clarity, having an immense appreciation for your body, as you see it rewarding you for putting good things into it– those are things that no one should go without.

Cutting sugar out of my diet, was hard. I found myself getting angry when I wouldn’t let myself have it. That’s how I knew it had a grip on me. Getting rid of the diary wasn’t a problem because what I had seen of the livestock industry (including on organic farms) affected me into the deepest depths of my soul and spirit. I have zero qualms about if I have made the right decision. Livestock are animals, just like my cats, your dogs. Their lives do not have less value because they taste better.

Ask yourself: do you want to know the truth? Or do you want to live your short life with your eyes closed to what is really going on? If you want to know the truth, watch this video. The is real life. This is really happening. This is what we support when we eat animal products. Everyone is talking about raising their consciousness and raising their awareness. RAISE IT. BE LOVE.

A poem to the man I love.

Your absence has opened my eyes to the reality of what you are to me. How can you be so far, yet I’ve never felt closer to you? I feel you in the deepest parts of me. I feel you shining from the center of my soul in every direction, in every color. I feel a constant buzz of excitement as if you had just looked at me that way that you do, that way that completely shatters everything in my field of vision, but you. That way that makes me gasp as if I were to say, “Oh my god, what IS this?!” The way that makes me feel like every ounce of love is expanding from my heart into everyone and everything,

You have taught me how to be the ruler of my own world. You bring a shine of brilliance to every space of my universe, our universe. You see me, not just my exterior, but deeper. You see yourself in me as you pulse through my veins and radiate from my heart. We are on same page, the exact same page, we are that little dot, that little speckle of existence on the exact same page where we are holding hands and making plans. I am you and you are me. We are consciousness intertwined, floating up toward the sky, past the stars, into the heavens, up, out and all around. We are the the space in between, connecting ourselves to each other. I see you in my dreams as I see you when I’m awake. It’s as if you’ve set up shop in both places. I don’t know where one ends and one begins, but I guess it doesn’t matter, I get to be with you and feel connected to us, you, my spiritual twin, the one who makes me feel as if my stomach is glowing with a saturation of unconditional love and the bright, glittering sparkle of bodhicitta.

We have completely stripped down the walls, they crumbled the moment our eyes met. You have seen my world, as if you’ve opened the top of my head and looked inside. You looked at it with a magnifying glass and never questioned how it worked. And for you, I do the same. I see you, I see us fusing together as one, as all, to color the limitlessness of our mind. Your mind. My mind. Us. This. This. This. All of it.

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Acting Under Assumptions

Where do I even begin with this post? How many times have I gotten myself into trouble, how many problems have I created through being under the assumption that there was a problem to begin with in the first place? Acting under assumptions has led to devastating consequences for me and I was lucky enough to have someone very special to me teach me, “don’t believe everything you think.”

Getting lost in the mind is dangerous and scary. It breaks my heart that there are so many people in this world that don’t have access to communities and relationships that are having conversations like this. Had I not joined that gym with yoga classes, had I not become immersed in the yoga lifestyle, had I not been introduced to Buddhism and meditation, I would be stuck where I was for so many years, I would still be stuck in the prison of my own mind, still believing awful, terrible things about myself and others with no way out.

Becoming conscious of when I act or speak under assumptions, the reality that my mind has created for me, has been one of the hardest things that I’ve ever practiced. So hard in fact, that I have no advice to give anyone else on it. I find myself failing at it constantly and it causes me a great deal of angst. I haven’t posted in two weeks because I assumed that I had no right to have this conversation over my blog if I didn’t have a success story to tell. For the last couple weeks, I’ve found myself in a state of anxiety, anxiety so fierce that it’s left me paralyzed in bed, on the couch, in the shower. I haven’t wanted to leave the house because my mind is showing me the terrible things that might be coming to fruition: my failure (as a teacher, student, girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister, aunt), the state of my finances, the never-ending cycle of addictions that pop up anytime I experience a moment of boredom…

I’m having a hard time. I don’t (yet) have a story of triumph and victory to share. I am at tipping point where I’ve realized that I could have quite possibly made much better decisions that would have saved me a lot of heartache. I do see that this paralyzing anxiety is scrambling my ability to reason and discern what’s actually going on. There have been so many times that I have snapped at someone or something working only under the story that my mind has created. Isn’t that insane? Isn’t that crazy that we all unknowingly engage in this ignorant behavior all the time? My hope is that through this conversation, you can at least bring some awareness to it. Take a moment to pause and ask yourself if you really know what’s true. I’ve talked in previous posts about remaining impartial and practicing equanimity– this is it! Forming opinions on people and things is one of the ways that  the mind keeps us captive! Those opinions turn into out-of-touch stories, which show us our neurosis, our insecurities, our judgments. These stories turn us into our most neurotic, insecure, judgmental selves. And then we make irrational decisions, say irreversible things and cause suffering for everyone involved.

I wish someone had this conversation with me before I was 29. I wish I didn’t look back and see 29 years of saying and doing things based on oblivion. But when I try to look for the good in the situation, I very clearly see, without any dirt in my eyes, that I at least know it now. As I said, working with acknowledging my presumptive behaviors has been difficult to say the least. I don’t usually realize that I’ve reacted under a mind-made story until after the fact, when I feel some sort of loss of morality, a piece of what makes me good. I have reached a new depth in connection with my yoga practice. My yoga practice has helped ease the lasting anxiety that I feel when I see that I’ve reacted before I reasoned. It gives me the space to breathe and see that there are still more opportunities to try. I’ve been approaching my practice with more of a beginner’s mind, attempting poses that I would normally skip because of the story my mind has made up, because of what it tells me my experience will already be like. We can do this in our interactions with ourselves and the external world. Next time you feel resistance, next time you feel fired up, angry, pissed off– before you say or do anything ask yourself, do you know the whole or even part of story? Or do you just see what your mind is showing you?  Slow down, ask questions and don’t believe everything you think.

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Lose Your Opinions, Expand Your Practice, Expand Your Mind.

There are times when having an opinion is important and necessary. A lot of the time though, we make opinions on people and situations without being even a little bit close to understanding the whole picture. We take in a limited amount of information on something and immediately engage in creating duality. This is good, that is bad, this is worthwhile, that isn’t, and so on. The problem is that we then put on our blinders and the ego only allows us to see what we want to see. Decided something or someone sucks? We then find ourselves looking through a pinhole of a perspective that seems to validate that judgment, we lose the capacity to see a bigger picture, a bigger story.

This post is closely related to my post on impartiality and equanimity. I’ve had time to let this practice set in and I’ve been discussing it a lot more in classes. Our yoga mat is an amazing platform to train for life. We become partial on the mat all the time, we favor poses, sides, teachers, and frown down upon others or ourselves. This limits our ability to understand the entire scope of what is going on. When we’ve decided we don’t like something, we check out, underestimate its importance, and what we can learn from it. I say this a lot in class and I firmly believe it, “you can’t find change and transformation without getting uncomfortable.” But we could make things overall much less uncomfortable if we stopped forming so many opinions, if we stopped making decisions on how we already feel about something, if we keep our eyes and our minds open.

This week in class, we’ve been breaking down the pose Svarga Dvidasana, Birds of Paradise. Many people cringe at the thought of holding a full bind while standing on one foot and attempting to fully extend the other. I get that! But once we’ve made the decision that we already don’t like it, we shut down, physically, emotionally, energetically. We begrudgingly hold the necessary preparatory poses knowing that the whole thing is already going to be a failure rather than melting and marinating, softening and relaxing. I’ve been asking my classes to attempt the pose, making sure the they’ve found themselves relaxed in each step before they move on to the next. Rather than letting the anxiety and tension build as we come closer to the peak pose, I’ve been inviting my students to cultivate confidence through easing the breath, step by step. I’m getting amazing feedback from students that they were able to reach new depths with the pose while going into it with a blank slate of a mind, a beginner’s mind.

How can we take this practice of impartiality off the mat? Notice the times when you get most fired up. Many of us can understand the stress of sitting in traffic. Anxiety, frustration and anger undeniably build. But for someone who is in training to be a warrior, this would be a much different situation. Can you remain indifferent to the fact that you’re stuck there? When you decide that the situation you’re in is awful and horrible, you continue to see it and the universe seems to reflect it back.

You could practice impartiality when you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is losing their temper. Rather than deciding that they are an inconsiderate asshole, can you let go of your opinion? Can you practice not thinking less of them? There are situations influencing their lives that you will never understand, which never warrants judgment. Can you practice being a warrior? We often looking at this as being “the bigger person”. You are not bigger, you are not better, you are operating on a level of awareness that allows you to take a step back and consciously choose to simply be an observer instead of a reactor. You are able to recognize that other people are enduring the cycle of suffering, samsara, just like each and every other person in this world. We are all equal, we all live, suffer and die. Can you keep your blinders off and become more perceptive by recognizing when your opinions, your judgments and your criticisms limit the capacity of your mind? Open your eyes.

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5 Tips to Become a Better Yoga Instructor

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Nowadays it seems like everyone and their mother has a yoga teacher certification. If you want to make it as an instructor, you need to stick out. I knew that there would a lot of competition moving to the Bay Area, as it has such a densely populated yoga community, but knowing and experiencing were two different things. I’ve had the opportunity to take class with a variety of senior teachers and it’s been humbling if anything. I can’t tell you how many times the thought went through my head, “And you thought you could hang with these top dogs?” As I began to study them more, one thing became apparent: not only did they teach a killer class, they had…ETIQUETTE. Your instructor etiquette has so much to do with students coming back to class. These are a few tips I’ve learned that have worked for me, I now feel more confident and connected with my students.

1.) Check in with your students before class. This is one of the hardest things for me to do because it really requires me to tap into my most confident self. Before class I walk up to students and introduce myself. I ask for their name, shake their hand, and ask if they have any injuries. If it’s a student that I know, I ask how their body feels and if they have any requests. I can’t tell you how powerful this move is. When your students see that you are mature and confident, they let their guards down and are more receptive during class. Sometimes you can’t get to everyone so let them know at the end of class to feel free to chat with you if you didn’t get a chance to before. You are leading these students through a physical, mental, and emotional journey, they need to know that you are available and that they can trust you. I used to ask the class as a whole before we started if anyone had injuries and people are much less willing to speak up, so make it personal.

2.) Touch your students! The majority of the class, I’m adjusting people. This came from gradual practice. The practice is becoming a second nature and I really dig it. First, let people know people know before class that if they don’t want an adjustment at any time, to please let you know and that it’s totally cool. For the most part, I adjust students how I’m cuing to the whole class. If someone drops into child’s pose, give them some love as you continue to teach. Let them know that you see them. Savasana time? Instead of checking your text messages, give your students a shoulder and/or neck adjustment. I find that adjusting helps me keep my head in the game. Bottom line: people want to feel a connection, it’s part of being human. You can give them that gift.

3.) Make eye contact with your students, especially when you’re up front talking to them before or after class. And I don’t mean a quick skim through the faces, I mean connect with someone with your gaze for a few seconds. These people took time out of their day to see YOU, let them know that their presence is acknowledged. When students feel like you’re not paying attention to them, they check out. You are their leader for that time and your ability to make eye contact with them shows that you’re not only confident enough in your teacher self to that, but that you care enough to do that. Oh, and make sure it’s not a creepy, intense gaze–your soft gaze will soften them..

4.) Practice gratitude. Just because you are a well-known teacher with an awesome time slot does not mean that you *deserve* to have people in your class. As teachers, we are lucky to do what we do and we are lucky to have people fill our classes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen teachers jet out right after class without seeing their students out the door. After your “Namaste”, thank your students for coming and let them know how much you appreciate them. There are too many teachers who let this job go to their head and begin to act and believe that they are on some higher playing field than everyone else. Get on your students’ level and stay there. As their yoga instructor, you very well may be one of the biggest influences in their life. It’s very possible that you currently make more of an impact than…their boss, doctor, significant other, parents, whatever. Understand how important you are to these people and let them know that you don’t take that lightly.

5.) Be yourself. I know you’re thinking, “Blah, blah, blah, I hear this all the time.” This really took on a new meaning when I found myself continually engaging in a particular conversation with myself after moving here. I would go to an experienced teacher’s classes and think to myself, “Oh I should really start teaching like this person. Maybe I should start to emulate that person a bit more.” Don’t do it. Don’t even try. If you notice organic changes in your teaching based off of you being inspired by another teacher or their class, great. That I can get behind. But students like uniqueness and you can’t get that from trying to be like someone else. I can tell you from personal experience, it comes off as funky and awkward and you don’t want your students to get the wrong impression of you, do you? Use other teachers to inspire you, not to intimidate you.

Teaching yoga is hard! I’ve learned that it’s a constant growing process and at no point should you feel like, “you’ve got it down”. Once we give into that mentality, we lose inspiration (which is the foundation for a great class and teacher!) and we become less receptive. If you love teaching yoga, as a full-time job or not, you know that the thought of your class is popping into your head all day long. It should make you a excited and a little nervous/anxious (because you want to be your best self and there’s always a little bit of nerves about having that on display for everyone to see, hear, and feel). Because class is constantly popping into our thoughts, we remain ready to go at all times. Remember, improving our yoga-instructing, bad-ass selves is a PRACTICE. One thing at a time. One thing at a time.