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When Transiting Venus Conjuncts Your Natal Chiron, Hidden Gifts, and Dharma

A few days ago, I had an exact conjunction between Venus in the sky and my natal Chiron. I didn’t realize it until I checked my Transit Chart halfway through that day, thinking to myself what the heck is going on with me today? 

It started with a wayward paycheck. I sent a third email to the person who was supposedly in charge of payroll to ask when I could pick up my now 3-week late check. There were a few other minor work issues I was trying to sort out and as I spent the morning trying to track down money I was owed or pinpoint things that didn’t seem pin-able at that moment, my rising emotions took on a life of their own and I got swept away. (Note: the moon was going to be Full in two days, when emotions tend to swell.) I have had a recurring dream, on and off for years, of tidal waves and tsunamis and I remember one in particular in which I was in a canoe with an old friend in the middle of the ocean (ya know, just chilling) as an oncoming tidal wave roared toward us, turned our little boat vertical and we rode down the side of the wave. Interestingly, the canoe never capsized and maybe this is a sign of my internal strength even as I have navigated the turbulent waters of life.

I digress.

The issues I was facing this particular morning were, on the surface level, of money/income/getting paid for my work and also of receiving support I needed to complete tasks. On a deeper level, this was about supporting myself in the world and feeling valued for the work I am doing, for what I am giving. Chiron wounds have deep, deep roots. The spot in the Natal Chart where Chiron dwells points to the wounds that we have trouble even looking at; we bury them well. It’s the place where we feel inadequate and cut off from ourselves and we may attempt to compensate in some way, by either proving ourselves again and again (an endless cycle), or giving from an empty place (the giving is, therefore, not genuine/pure), or withdrawing and taking ourselves out of the game altogether because it feels safer than the rejection that may come if this wound was revealed or activated.

I have Chiron on the cusp of Taurus and Aries and so issues of self-worth, confidence, and valuing myself run deep. Taurus rules, among other things, the material world and earning an income, which is intrinsically connected to how we value ourselves. Aries rules the self and the physical body. Somewhere along the way I learned not to value myself and my own needs, and that to do so was somehow inappropriate. It’s no surprise then that I have often faced circumstances of not being paid enough (or at all in some cases!) for my work.

And so my emotions were running high this morning.  I decided to do a yoga practice. Note: if you have Chiron in Aries, yoga and other types of therapeutic body work are excellent for you. I use Yogaglo (online yoga classes) when I can’t get to the yoga studio and I’m in the mood to be guided. I have a few favorite teachers on Yogaglo and as I searched for a class to take, a new class taught by one of “my teachers” popped up. It was, amazingly, a class on Artha, the Sanskrit word for having the wealth or resources to fulfill your dharma or life purpose, i.e., using your innate gifts for service in the world. I felt like he (the teacher) was speaking directly to me. I have to pause here to say how cool is that? The universe was supporting me. Recognizing this inherent support is the first step in healing/integrating my Taurus/Aries Chiron wounds. It’s no coincidence that when I teach I often hear myself asking students to accept support, to feel the support of the earth underneath them, etc. We teach the lessons we are learning ourselves.

It’s interesting to note that I currently have Saturn transiting my 2nd house of earned income/material resources/self-value. I liked the way my Astrology teacher/mentor whimsically described Saturn Transits: “Wherever Saturn is in the chart, you know he’s going to be busting chops.” The chart house Saturn visits usually calls for some restructuring, discipline, hard work/effort and facing whatever it is you neglect in that area of life, so that you can fully utilize your resources and create something solid, something lasting. Once you get used to looking at Natal and Transit Charts, themes begin to pop out at you; if you see something significant (like, Venus making a conjunction with my natal Natal Chiron) chances are that theme will be highlighted elsewhere in the chart. Saturn is pushing me to face and organize this area of my life (my material resources), so that I can receive the support I need and, in turn, support others.

When Venus and Chiron get together in the Natal or Transit chart, ancient wounds connected to relationships (how we relate to others and our environment) can resurface and fester, and there is also a chance to clean them out. I love the idea of the wound actually being the gift, which is why I resonate with the Rumi quote: The wound is the place where the light enters you. The wound remains a wound, I believe, because we cover it up and emotionally cut off that area of life or ourselves. You can look to the sign and house Chiron is in to learn more about your ‘wounds’ and how you can learn to re-integrate them.

If you recall, my Chiron is on the cusp of Taurus and Aries and it sits in my 5th house, right near the cusp of my 6th house. I am learning to care for myself (I have an Ayurveda daily morning practice) and to support myself in the material world (building my business). I teach yoga and it has taken me a long time to free up my creative energy (5th house) and voice (Taurus) so that I can be “myself” when I teach. When I connect to my own creative flow students can connect to theirs. I notice that if I am “in my head” too much when teaching or when doing anything in life, I don’t give others the space they need to be in their own “flow.” It’s a good thing I started teaching yoga later in life, as I was beginning to face my Chiron wounds and lessons, or else I would have believed I was no good at it and have moved on AKA quit (6th house Chiron), which is what I did, work-wise, throughout my twenties and early thirties (tried something, deemed myself unfit and jumped ship).

I can only do my work and service in the world when I face these wounded pieces of myself because it’s difficult to give when operating from a place of lack. Once you “own your Chiron,” it’s as if you have a new found, unshakeable power that comes from those dark experiences. We can then use this power, this strength, to support others who have similar wounds. This is why Chiron is called the Wounded Healer.

I am learning how to play the harmonium and it’s a whole new world for me. I didn’t play instruments as a kid and have a memory of a Middle School chorus teacher insulting my voice (Chiron in Taurus). After that, I pretended to sing, mouthing the words, which is sad because I loved to sing as a child and always sang in the shower. I said to my Harmonium teacher, who happens to be interested in Astrology, “I have my moon in Taurus and I have read that this placement can indicate a hidden gift of singing or using your voice.” I said it with a chuckle because although I can carry a tune, I am clearly not a gifted singer and I didn’t want her to think I was delusional. She seemed to understand and confirmed, without hesitation, that it was indeed “a gift.” By singing and playing the harmonium I am healing my wound (freeing up my voice and my creative expression).

It’s no surprise that my throat is one of the most vulnerable places in my body; when I get sick I get a sore throat first. For most of my life, I felt I didn’t have “a voice,” that I couldn’t express myself well and clearly. I didn’t know how or have the capacity to express what was on the inside, what I really felt. For this reason, I never felt “heard.” Although I longed to be heard and seen, I deeply feared being heard and seen: my Chiron block. Leo rules the 5th house, where Chiron lives in my chart, which is about being seen and heard, how you shine, and using and expressing your creative gifts.

On the vision board in my bedroom, which I created at the beginning of the year, it says “I am enough.” Although I think the phrase is a little corny/cliche, as I spontaneously cut the words out of a magazine I knew it was an integral component of my “vision” for this year, without fully understanding why. Now I know.

“I am enough” is a good mantra for a Chiron/Venus aspect. With this aspect, there can be a feeling of giving a lot in relationships and not receiving in return what you need, hence the feeling of support needs to first come from within. We can do that through daily Ayurveda and yoga practices, for example, or any other form of self-care that keeps us feeling balanced. Taking the time to provide ourselves with care and nourishment is self-love. The key is to love ourselves enough in order to feel that we are worth this effort (something I am learning). As I cultivate self-love, I believe I will continue to draw situations and dynamics into my life that feel supportive and enable me to do my dharma. I am learning that my dharma is using and sharing my hidden gifts (creative self expression, being playful/joyful, teaching children) to support others in their creativity, in whatever form that may take.

If you’d like to know more about where Chiron is in your Natal and/or Transit Chart, please book a Reading with me. 🙂

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Retrograde Planets and Durga’s Roar

We currently have four (soon to be five) retrograde planets in the sky, through the end of May. To take a step back, Retrograde refers to the appearance of a planet, from Earth, to be moving backward in its orbit. It is said by Astrologers that the illusion of the backward motion turns the energy of that planet inside-out, so to speak. In other words, if Saturn (when in Direct motion) is about responsibility, structure and discipline, when Saturn is in Retrograde motion these themes are reversed. It’s not that Saturn Retrograde is about being irresponsible or undisciplined, although it can show up in your life that way; it is, instead, a time to reassess, review, re-do (anything with an “re” prefix, basically) or fine-tune your responsibilities and your relationship with discipline, so that you can make sure that your life practices are in line with your true values. For this reason, the Retrograde energies urge us to pause, to slow down, and to go inward (a time for self-work/self-awareness) in order to re-align any aspects of our lives that may be out of whack.

My friend shared an article yesterday on her inspiring Blog that illuminates the deeper meaning of the Retrograde planets. The author of the article, Tanaaz, writes: “Retrograde energy is also highly feminine and in these patriarchal times, on a subconscious level, many of us struggle to accept and integrate feminine energy into our every day lives.” This was an AHA moment for me. I had never thought of it this way. When many of us, who know something about Astrology, think of planets in Retrograde, we understand that life can feel more chaotic, less smooth or productive, during these times. Why is this so? As Tanaaz expresses, it’s because we are meant to take a step back from our worldly pursuits at this time in order to align with the “feminine,” the non-doing side of life. So, it seems, if we resist this energy and try to force our will because we want to see immediate results for our efforts, we will be presented with obstacles that show up in various forms and frustrate us. The antidote is the act of, good ole’, Letting Go.

How do we let go? Well, we can start with breathing practices and meditation and yoga. I noticed today, as I was reading my book, a nagging feeling that I was wasting time because I wasn’t doing something that was going to produce tangible results, at least not right away. These feelings and patterns are not easy to unwind because they are so ingrained, however just being aware of them is, I believe, an integral step in making shifts. Letting go our our agendas, of how we think things should be and look frees up a huge amount of energetic space. It frees up our creative energy. The Feminine is not attached to a gender: it is our creative energy, the force behind our inspiration and passion. The purpose of the Retrograde periods is to restore balance in our lives, so take a breather. 🙂

I have four Retrograde planets (well, five, if you count Pluto in Shadow Period) in my Natal Chart and one of them is Mars. Retrograde planets, as I discussed above, turn the energy of that planet inward thus the fiery and fierce energy of Mars has been, for me, internalized and I have had difficulty expressing my strength and power, moving it out into the world. I see now, in a moment of integration, that I have been on a path of learning how to own my ‘Mars’ energy, to use it in a fair and balanced way (past-life karma likely at the root of this one: I have my South Node in Aries), so that I may lead/teach in a strong yet loving and compassionate way. True strength comes from compassion and this is the lesson of Durga, the Warrior Goddess.

Yesterday, I re-visited (during retrograde periods you may naturally find yourself re-visiting things from the past) one of my favorite books and teachers: Awakening Shakti by Sally Kempton. I like to teach my yoga classes around themes, so I was looking for inspiration on what to teach next. According to Kempton, Durga is both the Goddess of Battle and the Divine Mother. Her ferocity and commitment, her ability to overcome obstacles, comes from a true inner strength (core strength) and compassion.

Our lives are full of connections and synchronicities when we are present to notice and absorb them. It dawned me, after reading Tanaaz’s article about the Retrograde planets, that it was no coincidence that I was re-reading my book about the Divine Feminine Energy in all of us (Shakti). With all my Natal Retrograde planets, I have embodied a more passive and gentle nature, or at least I think I have been seen that way throughout my life. In my family of origin (I’m sure the roots are deep), femininity was linked with being modest and not going after one’s needs and desires. I learned to be the “good girl.” I also believed that if I was not the “good girl” I would be shunned. This created a chasm within me and trapped energy (Shakti) inside me, waiting to be freed, to roar (Durga rides a lion). This trapped energy has come out over the years in bursts and eruptions, built up frustration and anger that I haven’t quite understood and that has caused me to feel shame. Like Persephonne, the Queen of the Underworld, who starts out in the story as the innocent maiden, before being captured by Pluto/Hades, King of the Underworld, I have a dark side too. We all do.

When, some years ago, I was immersed in my second Yoga Teacher Training, my mentor, after watching me practice teach one day said, matter-of-factly, “You’re a good teacher,” to counter my evident self-doubt, and “It’s time for you to step into your authority.” I have thought of these words often. I used to find myself in situations with women who embodied the shadow side of Durga: controlling, harsh, quick to anger. My immediate response was withdrawal. This is an ancient feeling, a core reaction: I’m like my cat when he hears the doorbell and zooms under the bed, as if the person at the door plans to kill him. Jungian psychology posits that when we disown a part of our personality, it appears in our lives as the shadow side of the energy. I was always surprised that I seemed to attract these fierce and, sometimes, harsh women. A yoga teacher who lost her temper because I had stepped the ‘wrong’ foot back; a boss who was controlling and, therefore, disempowered her employees. I understand that I am meant to reclaim my power and am in the process of doing so now in my life’s work. A different type of woman and mentor has entered my life now; one who shows and feels deep compassion and seems to ‘see’ me in a way that I have not previously felt ‘seen.’

In  Sally Kempton’s beautiful book, the myth of Durga goes like this: the Devi gods, who represent light and joy, convince her that she must fight the battle against the Asuras, who represent the ego gone astray and corruption, in order to restore balance in the world. She is the only one who can defeat the demon kings because those wise guys made a pact long ago with Brahma, the Creator, that they could not be defeated by any man or god, but there was no mention of a goddess. When Durga meets the demon kings, she is disguised as an innocent, beautiful maiden goddess and they, of course, want her. She tells their servants that she made a vow when young to only marry a man who can defeat her in battle. They laugh and think this is absurd but she persists and they become impatient. They send their men to go and get her, to drag her into their palace by her hair. Durga raises her sword and the men’s bodies are dissolved into thin air. The devil kings finally realize who she is (Shakti) and they remember the loophole. They know that they must defeat her in battle or die. Durga has the powers of all the gods and goddesses within her and so they don’t stand a chance against her. When she defeats them, they are returned back to source, the heart of the mother, and the balance in the land is restored. The stories of the goddesses are about integrating dark and light and finding our way back home.

The Retrograde planets are calling for a similar energy: by slowing down and releasing the need to produce something tangible in the world, we will reconnect with ourselves, with nature (get outside and take more walks during this time!) and with divinity (the connection to all that is), so that when we create things in this world it comes from a balance of heart of mind.

For 2017 Retrograde timing, check out this website (scroll down for 2017).

From Shopaholic to Yogaholic: How Consistent Practice Curbed My Unhealthy Habits

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I listened to my mom grumble as she begrudgingly put on her jacket. “I can’t stand this jacket anymore.” In her defense, this was during an unseasonal spring snowstorm, and after a long winter; we were all tired of our jackets. But mom’s coat complaint did make me think about the way I sometimes feel when I wear an old item of clothing that I no longer like or feel good in—that tired, “this-thing-again” feeling. And the opposite sensation that arises when I wear something new: that elusive promise of a fresh identity, a clean slate.

Maybe it’s not the old, worn-out winter coat we wish to replace, but our perspective.

Shopping is a form of searching/seeking. When we shop, we’re searching for something much deeper than the items we buy. We believe, on some level, that material things can fill us up or satisfy us, and since they cannot (not for long, anyway), we shop for more things. Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist, reminds us that shopping is a way of “always trying to find security, always trying to feel good about yourself.” Maybe it’s not the old, worn-out winter coat we wish to replace, but our perspective.

This is where the yoga comes in. Over the past several years, as my practice has become more consistent, my incessant desires to shop, obsessively highlight my hair, and engage in other various unfavorable behaviors (like dating unavailable men) have dwindled. I’m not saying I’ve been forever cured, but I am getting there (although I’m still working on my sweet tooth—last night I polished off so many cookies that I lost count).

It’s difficult to tackle unhealthy behaviors at a purely cognitive level because these habits are embedded too deeply in the psyche. Real change needs to happen at a cellular level first. Yoga does this first by changing the way we carry ourselves, improving our posture and our body alignment. The practice draws attention to habitual physical tendencies that may not be supporting us, and to the places where the body is holding stress. Looking at what lies beneath these habits and physical patterns is the first step. When I first started practicing yoga, I was constantly asked to plant my feet firmly on the ground. I’d think “why does the teacher keep harping on this?” and then realized that I never stood solidly on my feet during the day. My pattern was to balance awkwardly on the edges of my feet, and I finally recognized that it didn’t feel good. It hurt!

Our bodies reflect what we feel inside. I stood on the edges of my feet, a tentative posture and a bizarre balancing act, because that’s how I felt inside: ungrounded, like I was balancing on the edge of life and unsure of where to place my feet. The yoga practice brought my attention to this unconscious tendency that was certainly not supporting me (our feet support our entire body) and I worked each day to adjust it. It felt good to feel the ground under my feet!

Yoga is about more than pretty poses: it’s a deep way of working with yourself.

Changing deeply seated habits is a gradual process. It happens silently and over time. It is often unglamorous, and even uncomfortable. Yoga is about more than pretty poses: it’s a deep way of working with yourself. People sometimes worry about the cost of yoga (understandably so), but if your yoga practice helps you cut down on mindless shopping, it may actually be saving you money. I still have moments of desiring shiny new things (and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered). But on the whole, that impulsive need to fill a void by purchasing a new item or, as I mentioned earlier, sacrificing my hair (my hair once wound up fire-engine red; it was an interesting look) is gone. My yoga practice has filled that ubiquitous void because it enables me, through the mind-body connection, to leave the thinking mind (or, at least, to make more space between thoughts) and to move into the present moment of life where all the true newness and shininess exists.

Original Article Date: July 14, 2015

Home’s Not so Far Away … (Published originally in Yoga International)

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In my mid-twenties, I departed the East Coast for romantic San Francisco. I had been dreaming about moving to the West Coast since I was a teenager and carted most of my stuff out there, imagining this would be a permanent move.

But things didn’t go as planned, and after nearly three years of living in San Francisco, I made the decision (more out of necessity than choice) to move back home to New York. I began the lonely process of unwinding my life, sorting through everything, donating and selling my belongings. I shipped the things I couldn’t part with to my aunt, who had offered to store them until I got settled—which meant that my aunt had about ten large boxes coming her way.

I began the lonely process of unwinding my life, sorting through everything, donating and selling my belongings.

Home shit home, I thought to myself as the plane touched down at JFK.

I was sad to be back. I felt defeated and lost. I had failed yet again. But this time I was thirty, so the shame and the failed expectations felt heavier, more monumental. I had departed, or more accurately fled, New York with the vision of a brand new sparkly life in California. In California, I’d have many friends, a loving, romantic relationship, a stimulating and fulfilling work environment. Everything that had ever eluded me would find its way to me in San Francisco.

Big fat surprise: I didn’t find what I was looking for. As our wise friend Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us: Wherever You Go, There You Are. You can’t run away from yourself, or from your issues. They tag along for the ride.

A friend of mine in a 12-step program told me that it was a well-known behavior in that circle—this fleeing business—and that a guy in her program announced one day that he had “done a location,” meaning that he had moved to a new city with the idea that his new surroundings would magically change his life, rather than doing the inner work necessary to actually change. In that same sense, I too had done a location. I had “locationed” myself right back to the drawing board. No money. No career. No significant other. No home. Bupkis.

I moved into my cousin’s apartment temporarily. She and her boyfriend were living abroad for a period of time, so her apartment was empty. It was also empty of heat. There was a problem with the radiator and the super did not make it his priority to restore it. I was cold and lonely in that apartment. I brought very few clothes and personal items with me to my cousin’s home. I rotated the same two pairs of jeans more than I should admit.

My possessions were now scattered among three locations and I felt the same way. Scattered. Fragmented. Incomplete.

I drove to my aunt’s house, where I had shipped my boxes, several times throughout this period to organize and transfer some of the items to my mother’s home. My possessions were now scattered between three locations and I felt the same way. Scattered. Fragmented. Incomplete. During my first, cold week at my cousin’s, I remember sitting on the couch alone, eating take-out and feeling like Bridget Jones. I cracked opened my fortune cookie, which read: “It doesn’t get better until you get better.”

I had no idea what my next step was or how to get better.

It turned out that my next step was a daily yoga practice—just moving my body and breathing and tuning in. I began, unbeknownst to me at the time, the process of slowly unwinding old patterns and stuck emotions in my body.

After about a year of yoga, meandering, eating ice cream out of the container, and, I’ll admit, reading my Zen tarot cards, I picked up the remainder of my stored belongings from my aunt’s house and proceeded to get rid of nearly everything. With each bag full of stuff I dropped off at the Salvation Army, I felt lighter, freer.

I had thought that skydiving, which I tried in San Francisco (among other misguided adventures), would be exhilarating, but the feeling of suffocating to death during the 90-second free fall put a damper on the experience. I couldn’t fly with the emotional baggage I was carting around. In my physical reality, I’d been moving my possessions with me from place to place for years. I’d been attached to my stuff, and, though I hadn’t realized it, it’d been suffocating me. But what I found even more exhilarating and freeing than skydiving was shedding what I’d been dragging around from place to place for years.

I was realizing, through my hour or two each day on my yoga mat, that I didn’t need much more than myself and my mat to be happy, to feel whole. When we slow down and bring awareness to the body, we can change unhealthy habits and patterns. The body is a reflection of the mind.

Possessions were becoming less important. I was less desirous of stuff or beauty procedures, like highlighting my hair (not that there is anything wrong with that, but my hair was in need of a break after a period of obsessive salon visits). Some of my armor was melting away.

Pema Chödrön, in The Wisdom of No Escape, discusses this idea of ridding ourselves of the armor we think is protecting us. “That’s what we’re doing here… removing armor,” she states, “removing our protections, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality.” (Chödrön, 69).

Around this time I had a dream. I was with an old friend, standing outside of her new home. It was a beautiful place I’d never seen before overlooking a clear, flowing expanse of water. “I didn’t know that you live here,” I said to my friend as I stared at my surroundings in awe. She said, “Yes, I live here.” And I felt perfectly serene and peaceful, like I was the flowing, clear water. I awoke knowing that I already resided in the place I’d been searching for. Then I remembered Chödrön’s teachings on maitri in another of her books, The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness.

“When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. But loving kindness—maitri—toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything…. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.” (Chödrön, 1-2).

So, you might say that my friend in my dream was just representing an aspect of me. And that the penetrating awe and peace that I felt was really a reflection of me accepting me, and that’s why I woke up feeling that I arrived a long time ago in the place I’d been searching for.

Because, you know, wherever you go, there you are.

Original Article Date: April 10, 2015

Click here for original article

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Slowing Down

Restorative Yoga is one of my favorite classes to teach and this amazes me. I am a Vata girl to the max. The Eastern Medicine system of Ayurveda posits that we are born with one or two doshas, or body types, dominant. My dominant dosha is Vata, or the air element.

Vata people need to move. And movement is a good thing for people with this body type, however, as is usually the case in life, we need to find balance, and there is a tendency toward too much movement for us vata folk. We can move so quickly that we don’t feel what’s going on in our bodies. Movement becomes a means to avoid. Vata people need to slow down enough (I’m not saying to a halt; stop and go energy exacerbates Vata) to feel our bodies, to feel our emotions and get connected. When the Vata dosha is out of balance we are disconnected, ungrounded, frantic.

Being a movement prone gal, I rarely attended Restorative classes or slower moving classes, and would feel frustrated in yoga classes that began very slowly and sleepily. I wanted to get going! So, I laugh with the universe because of course I am a Restorative teacher. I think I get as much from teaching these classes as the students get from taking them. We all leave class calmer, lighter, and more grounded.

We need to allow ourselves the time to slow down, to just be, so that we can come back into a place of balance. And although it is hard, especially for us Vata souls (and I think for most in today’s world), to stop “doing,” it is vital. There is a growing field of research on the benefits of this type of practice.

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Your Angels

A few months ago, my close friend’s grandmother died. This friend is like family–we’ve known one another since 2nd grade– and my mom and her mom, M., are also longtime buddies, like sisters. My mom was helping M. clean out her mother’s home when they came across a box of Angel cards (“Messages from your Angels,” it says on the outside of the box). M told my mom to give me the cards, knowing they’d be up my alley. When my mom handed me the box that evening, I accidentally dropped it and one card slipped out onto the floor. My Angel, Gabrielle, had a message for me: “You have an important life purpose involving communication and the arts. Please don’t allow insecurities to hold you back. I will help you.”

IMG_1497I have spent many years of my life in hiding, fearful of messing up or failing or maybe even shining too brightly. Over the last two years, since I began my yoga teaching career, I have taken more risks than ever before–leaving my zone of comfort and sharing my truth with others, opening my heart to others. Allowing myself to be vulnerable. It feels like coming out of the shadows. And some days, as I’ve written in past posts, the teaching feels inspired and connected, like a fluid dance between myself and students. On other days, it’s more like an awkward first date: silence that feels strained and heavy. On those less than inspiring days, I gaze longingly at my old hiding spot, wondering why I left. My old insecurities re-emerge and cause me to question if this is an appropriate path for me, a shy girl.

Gabrielle, the Angel, reminds me that growth happens when we move into and through our fears, not away from them. I needed the encouragement on that particular evening and silently thanked my friend’s Grandmother, Gigi, for sharing her Angel cards with me.

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Howl at the Moon

Today I taught yoga classes for kids at a school carnival. These little people were so eager to listen and sing and bring their hands together at their hearts. They also love barking in Downward Facing Dog, howling at the moon in Upward Facing Dog and hopping like bunny rabbits. They are pure joy. Pure love. They reminded me tonight, after a mundane day (the grey, damp weather reflecting the blah-ness of the day), of the joy in simple moments and the power we have to shift our perspective.

Last night, I was reading an article on Happiness in The Sun Magazine. The author, Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, writes: “Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us come to being happy.”

I feel, on some days, when the stars are aligned, hugely grateful for what I have in my life and full of love and, yet, on other days the things I do not have seem to be obstacles to my happiness. When I look around (especially in Facebook land) everyone my age seems to have basic external markers that I do not yet have (a family, a home of my own) and I wonder what the heck happened to me and sink into a state of lack. It does not feel good there. It seems in these moments that those missing pieces will provide me with the happiness I seek and yet I know, on a deeper level, that external circumstances will never change the way I feel about myself, will never make me happy if I am not already. Csiksgentmihalyi (not even going to even try pronouncing that) reflects that happiness does not occur only when “external conditions are favorable” and, actually, seems to occur more when they are not (or at least when we have moved outside of comfort). He writes that those “who have lived through near-fatal physical dangers often recall that in the midst of their ordeal they experienced extraordinarily rich epiphanies in response to such simple events as hearing the song of a bird in the forest, completing a hard task, or sharing a crust of bread with a friend.”

I had once partially filled out a questionnaire for a website; the question I’d left off on was “Are you happy?” This question kept popping up in my inbox, a reminder that I had yet to complete the questionnaire. “Are you happy?” it chided me.

I finally filled the damn thing out. I checked “Yes”, knowing that I have the power to be happy right now, in each moment that I choose to be present.

Maybe all I have to do is howl at the moon in Upward Facing Dog. Awwoooo! Now that makes me happy.

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Day Job

I picked up an old issue of The Sun Magazine spontaneously, realizing I had never read it, and am engrossed in the advice columns from Cary Tennis’ book, Citizens of the Dream: Advice on Writing, Painting, Playing, Acting, and Being.

A jazz pianist wrote to Cary for advice on his career/life path, explaining that he’s heading for his fifties and just sneaking by on his musician’s income. He writes, “We always hear heartwarming stories of people who followed their dream and never gave up and succeeded, but what of the people who followed their dream and failed?” He says that he once thought staying true to his art was everything but that now he yearns to know the satisfaction of earning a living. He’s sick of driving many miles for crappy gigs and money and is concerned about his future.

The jazz pianist’s dilemma struck a chord with me (no pun intended).  I recently took on a part time office job that is unrelated to anything I am interested in but will enable me to make a living. When I was attempting to teach yoga full- time I felt stressed and pressured. I was ‘running around’ from class to class and subbing whenever I could, but it did not add up to a full-time salary. Subbing cannot be counted on for income and even permanent classes are subject to change, so there is little stability. And god forbid I taught a class that was less than great; it sent me into a downward spiral of despair and doubt, questioning whether I was any good at teaching and if I could continue on this path at all.

Cary tells the jazz musician that when he first sat down to write to him he was at a loss; he had no words. He took some time away from the computer to clear his head but still no words came. But then he noticed a bumper sticker on a car that read “Real musicians have day jobs!” Cary writes, “it was a needed reminder: Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it.” He encourages him to find part-time work to supplement his musical career or to even change paths completely if he chooses and play his music on the side. I found this oddly comforting.

The next question to Cary comes from a young woman who has had no worldly success with her writing, no tangible results to prove that her writing is worth pursuing. She wants to know when she should give up in terms of making a career of writing. Cary reminds her that writing is not only about “displaying one’s talent” but that writing is a “spiritual practice and mode of self-discovery.” He continues on to discuss the “practice,” the notion of putting in the work each day to improve one’s craft.

The universe has been sending lots of messages my way about practicing with consistency and love for the craft, and finding the grace to detach from the results. Practice is not about getting to an end point. I have been practicing every day (my writing, my yoga) and I feeling fuller, nourished, and more stable … all those things I’d been looking for when I was  practicing erratically and praying I would get my big break at some point. Sure, it would be great to get the big break but what is really great is simply feeling the effects of my practice in my body, mind and soul.

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Grief

A dream: I had been shot twice in the area around my heart. I didn’t realize at first that I’d been shot, didn’t feel anything, but then I looked down at my chest and saw that I had two bloody wounds. I felt a tingling sensation, a quiet pain. It wasn’t the pain that concerned me but the knowledge that the wounds were much deeper, more severe than the pain indicated and that I just couldn’t feel the full intensity of them yet. I didn’t know if the wounds were fatal so I was asking a police officer for his assessment; he seemed to reassure me that I would be okay.

The wounds, I suspect, are symbolic of my father’s death and the slow process of connecting to such big emotions. I have, for a long time, been disconnected from my emotions (a defense mechanism); my yoga and writing practices have helped to sync up my mind and body so I can feel what I am feeling, but, still, it is a slow process for me. I randomly cry in the car in response to a story on NPR (often one that seems, on the surface, unrelated) or a song.

Lately, what triggers me to feel are beings that are helpless or in pain. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had a soft spot for animals. Books like Where the Red Fern Grows were almost too much for me to handle; I cried like I had lost my own family member. As I grew older, I hardened and closed my heart and didn’t feel with the intensity I once had. I had learned that it wasn’t safe to be that vulnerable. My consistent yoga practice has enabled me to re-open in the places I closed down. This opening brings with it connection and love and, also, vulnerability and pain. Recently, posts and petitions on social media about animals that are suffering hit me at the deepest place in my core. I want to save them all. I want for them to be safe and comfortable and loved. I can’t stand the idea of them being alone and scared.

My brother’s recent decision to give up the dog he adopted, a dog who has anxiety and abandonment issues that affect his behavior and make it too difficult to have him in a small city apartment, sent me into a tear fest. I couldn’t speak when I heard the news because my throat was so full of emotion. I cried for days. My words to my brother, just weeks before he made the decision, were: “Don’t give up on him!” I had sensed it.

My brother said something recently that surprised me: he said his dog’s face reminds him of our dad. We laughed and my brother’s wife asked what he meant but I knew immediately. It had occurred to me that my reaction to the news about the dog was connected to my father. My father was in pain for a long time, ever since I can remember, trapped by his addictions and suffering immensely. He was also kind and big-hearted and cared deeply about other people, especially my brother and I, who he loved fiercely and completely. He couldn’t show it in the same way a father who is “available” and “well” might, but I always felt his love.

We could not help my father. I watched him slowly devolve, deteriorate. I was in high school when I began to understand that something was very wrong. About a year before he died, I had little contact with him. There had been so many ups and downs (homeless shelters and veteran’s rehab and finally recovery and a period of health, but not for long) and I finally understood he would never change. I didn’t make a conscious effort to withdraw but it happened naturally (on both sides; he didn’t contact me often either) and the whole time I felt sad and guilty but every time I picked up the phone to call him or thought about visiting him, I could not do it.

The guilt is still there but I am dealing with it. I see it. And I know it’s the last thing he would want me to feel. I also know that he’s free now, unshackled from the chains of addiction. Our emotions are circuitous and grieving is not a linear process. We can only take it step by step, and allow the light to trickle in. As Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the light enters us.” But we have to look at it first.

 

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The Art of Falling

Tonight during my class I felt present, fully present. There is a rhythmic flow that you can step inside of when you leave the thinking mind and teach from that higher, connected place; a dance between teacher and students ensues and it can feel magical. The sequence, the words, the technical aspects of the class fall into the background–they are there but it is the energy of the class that buoys everyone, that leaves both students and teacher feeling light and whole.

Unfortunately, there are also those classes that feel “off,” when you just can’t, for whatever reason, click in, find the beat. My voice, my words, my movements feel awkward and foreign to me and I struggle through the class like I was doing hard manual labor.

This is the truth. These “off” classes are, thankfully, now rare. But when I began teaching they happened a lot, probably due to old, deep fears of being “seen” and “heard.”

I wondered if it was a good idea to share this on my blog since I teach yoga for a living, but we all have “off” classes/days and to share these truths reveals our humanity and connects us to others. I am learning to move on more quickly from the classes or experiences in life that don’t go as well as I would have liked, and to keep in mind that it is all practice. The more we practice our craft the stronger, the more experienced we become.

So instead of failing … falling. Falling is a part of the practice. I say this to students when they’re in Tree Pose because it can be so frustrating to feel unbalanced, but our balance varies day to day; we will never not wobble and, sometimes, fall.

The question is: can we learn to fall gracefully?