Hi there. Remember me? It’s been a while.
So much has happened since my last blog post and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Nutshell: I spent the month of May in Bermuda teaching my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training, which was unicorns riding mermaids magic! I’m already busy planning to return to my home away from home in St. George’s for a retreat in November, another 200-Hour YTT in February, and a 300-hour YTT with some amazing guest faculty in May of next year, so stay tuned!
I want to apologize for leaving you in silence while I was away. No excuses, but some explanation: When I first landed in Bermuda, I was surprised by the amount of time I didn’t have! It was a marathon teaching nine-hour days, six days a week, while spending early mornings and evenings on ‘Mom-Duty’ and desperately trying to soak up as much of Bermuda as I could. As a result, most of the rest of my life back home (including this blog) was unceremoniously halted. Things have calmed almost back to a normal pace since then (the 100s of emails returned) and, since I last wrote, my dust-collecting blog popped into my head at LEAST a half a dozen times. Funny though, as more time went by it seemed like the breadth of what I needed to write ballooned. Nothing seemed important enough to break the silence that had bubbled up between us and so, I wrote nothing. Somehow that made me feel. Isn’t that the way? We haven’t called that friend or loved one in a while and it gets harder and harder to pick up the phone. We haven’t been to our favourite yoga class in a while and what once was a regular part of our routine that we looked forward now seems like a chore because we first have to show up on the threshold of our shame and own those pieces of ourselves that we try so hard to hide. On some level, I think it’s easier to pretend that part of our lives never existed because to show up means coming face to face with our humanity - we are procrastinators who don’t like change and would prefer to lose an important element to our self-care rather than face a part of ourselves that makes us feel shame. Funny isn’t it?
I’ve come to see that showing our vulnerabilities to another person by writing that blog post, making that call, or going back to that class is actually where real growth happens. So this is me, telling you that this was always important to me even when my overestimation of ability to wear all my hats and run a full-time teacher training, shame for having missed deadline after self-imposed deadline, embarrassment with every passing week, and stress about what I would say in this blog post got in the way of this connection. This is me owning up to my failure. This is me trying again.
Sometimes we just have to dive in. Incomplete, unsure, vulnerable … just as we are … perfectly imperfect people. How much energy do we waste thinking about that unreturned email or that overdue apology? In my experience, once we pull off that bandaid, take that first step, or put ourselves out there everything just gets easier after that. It feels more aligned than hiding.
And, yeah, maybe this isn’t the most life-changing blog post you’ll ever read, but I sent it. I sent it and it isn’t even a Tuesday! Take THAT perfectionism! I am re-commiting to sending you a little piece of my heart over email every Tuesday and posting it online every Friday. It would have been easier to have ignored my blog baby. If I never sent another blog post out ever again, I doubt many would notice and even less would mention it to me, so I could hide my shame. If we don’t talk about it, it never happened. Except it did happen. I am not someone who avoids. I dive right in. I tell you exactly how I feel and I trust that you do the same with me (though, from experience, I know that’s not always what happens, but that’s fodder for another blog post). I hid from all of you at the risk of highlighting this failure, and now I’m here doing just that for one moment before we move on and move up.
I’m so glad we’re back in touch.
This weekend, I spent some time at Queen Street Yoga with an incredibly engaged and interested group of yoga teacher trainees. I was invited there to present on body positivity and speak to my experience teaching yoga for bigger bodied people as part of a larger conversation about inclusivity within the yoga space (and beyond). It is refreshing to me everytime I am called upon to share my expertise about these topics becuase it signals to me a future for yoga that is inclusive and empowering, which is what we all deserve. Also exciting, early Friday morning, I will be flying to Just Breathe Yoga in sunny St. George, Bermuda to teach my entire 200-hour yoga teacher training program! Just Breathe Yoga invited me there because Samantha, the owner, resonated with my approach to the practice and she wants me to spread that love all over her island. What these experiences are reinforcing for me is, more and more, we are realizing that the spaces that we have built, the language that we use, the assumptions that we have, and the actions that we take need to be considered with as many different lenses as possible. Our life experiences, our family history, our social groups, our workplaces, and our inherent priviledges shield us from some realities of experience that we could live our whole lives without considereing. The problem with this sceanario is that people are being left behind. Not just within the yoga space, but with regards to access, education, and many experiences in our communities. If we only allow ourselves to participate in the world from the safety of that which is familiar, we have no need to change our lens. The more time we spend in comfort, the more our beliefs, paradigms, and gaps in understanding are reinforced and, perhaps, the harder they may be to change.
Let me give you an example of how insidious this is: make a list of the ten most influential people in your life … Go ahead … I’ll wait.
Now, make a different list with some descriptions you could use to categorize people. For example: age; race; highest level of education completed (high school, post-secondary school, trade school, etc.); chosen gender identity; marital status; religion; sexual orientation; convictions; family status, etc. Lastly, fill in the second list with the characteristics of each of your top ten as well as for yourself. What did you find? For most people, those who we spend the most time with and/or who are most influential in our lives not only share very similar characteristics, but also are very similar to us.
We don’t know what we don’t know and we really have to try to know what we don’t know. We won’t learn and grow staying safely within the boundaries of our understanding. We need to read about, follow, and visit people and places that are outside of our own understandings. Want to know how you can best support elderly people? Spend some time at your local seniors centre, call your grandma, or strike up a conversation with a septuagenarian sitting by themselves in the restaurant, waiting room, or on the bus that you’re on. Once you’re embedded within this community, close your mouth and open your ears. You never learn anything new if you’re talking. You see, from our current vantage point, we can never see another person’s perspective and our beliefs will rarely be challenged because those around us are informed from the same histories, education, and influences. When faced with a reality that is completely different from our own is not only how we learn to do less harm as we participate in the world, but also what ought to inspire our allyship.
Allies are people who recognize their privilege and take responsibility for changing the patterns of injustice imbedded within our society that resulted in them earning said privilege (for example, able-bodied people who work to end ableism). Being an ally doesn’t mean that you 100% understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It just means that you are taking on this struggle as your own. A marginalized person doesn't have the privilege of casting away their identity through oppression on a whim. It is a weight they carry every single day. An ally understands that this is now a weight that they must also be willing to carry and never put down, though they have the privilege of doing so. This is a powerful voice alongside the voice of marginalized people.
To be an ally means to listen, be aware of limplicit bias, do research and learn about the history of the struggle that you are participating, do the inner work to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems, while doing the outerwork to change those systems, and amplify amplify amplify - you have a voice; use it to share the message of marginalized people and add your voice to the the voices of those who fight without your privilege.
As a fat person facing body shame on the daily, I use the internalized practice of body positivity to participate in a radical global movement that sees the individual right of every single human being to exist and participate in the world and be seen as equal to every other human being regardless of their size or any other characteristic society may choose to label them with. Uncover your own oppression and participate in movements that are working to end this discrimination as a marginalized person. Then, use the same thinking and actions to become an ally with other groups who are struggling against oppression. Is it easy? No. Change never is. Is it necessary? Absolutely. We deserve it.
As Nelson Mandela once said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who are learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future”
After spending all weekend teaching a yoga teacher training module about Restorative Yoga and the importance of balancing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight-freeze) with that of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-digest-recover), I was inspired to write this blog post from a conversation I had in the studio with a student. This student and I were reflecting upon how "busy" has become such a meaningless term. Like "fine", "busy" seems to be the empty answer most people will reflexively reply when you ask them how they are doing. Sure, most of us are busy. We are a culture obsessed with multitasking and, more and more, I find people silence deprived. If it isn't music in the car, it's the television in the background or the pings and dings from our devices begging to snap up any free time we find ourselves in. You can't ride public transit or wait in a waiting room without noticing: we are obsessed with busying ourselves. As a result, what do I hear in my profession? "I can't meditate", "I can't sleep" "My mind is too busy". We have trained our sympathetic nervous system so well that it takes an ACTUAL crisis for people to remember the importance of balance. It's only when you really can't get out of that fight-flight-freeze state that you crave the balance that comes with rest-digest-recover. Compounding the issue as well are those around us. In our homes and especially in our workplaces, if you aren't busy, you're not pulling your weight. Tell someone you were in the office all weekend trying to finalize a big deal and they'll idealize your work ethic and tenacity. Tell them you spent the weekend at a mediation retreat (a very difficult emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental process) and the reply is much different ("Must be nice!).
Now, don't get it twisted. Yes, I am a yoga teacher, which is an incredibly magical career, but I don't spend my days meditating and making smoothies okay? I understand busy very very intimately. I am a business owner, Mom to a 16 month-old, wife getting ready to spend a month teaching in Bermuda (with the baby) while running a yoga teacher training program, creating content for my online course and classes for Yogasteya and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, writing these blogs, supporting my online clients, planning a summer YTT, and making some time to sleep and shower. I. understand. busy. I have always had a lot of balls in the air at one time. I like to keep my mind rolling in creative ideas and fun projects. I have a million on the back burner waiting for my physical form to catch up. When I was in University, I was introduced to the idea that stress is a choice and it was so empowering. I could be "stressed" or I could be "capable, but busy" or "working at max capacity". In my post-grad years, my attention then shifted from being "busy" to being "productive" and my mindset changed from frazzled and out-of-control to awake, alive, and able. That paradigm shift allowed me to get back behind the wheel of my time. We are pulled by dozens of priorities every day and it's unreasonable to think that we'll be able to give 100% to all of them all of the time and that's okay! That's why we're humans and not cyborgs. I say it all the time, but I promise you that you're not going to come to the end of your life and say, "Gosh, you know, I am so glad I spent that time emptying out my email Inbox". We don't care about that stuff, we care about people and we only connect with people in a meaningful way when we create spaces in our lives with which to do so.
You can take intentional steps to break out of this ugly cycle of "busy" (to unbusy yourself). Here are a few to consider:
1. Realize that being busy is a choice. It is a decision we make. We are never forced into a lifestyle of busyness. The first, and most important, step to becoming less busy is to simply realize that our schedules are determined by us. We do have a choice in the matter. We don’t have to live busy lives. If, like me, you have a very abundant calendar, consider changing your language from "busy" to "productive". Without that full calendar, I don't feed my family, so I want to stay productive! What I don't want is all the loss of control that seems to follow when one is stuck in the cycle of business.
2. Stop the glorification of busy. Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honor. In fact, directed at the wrong pursuits, it is actually a limiting factor to our full potential. It is okay to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is okay to not be busy!
3. Appreciate and schedule rest. One of the reasons many of us keep busy schedules is we fail to recognize the value of rest. Start small, set aside one waking hour per day for rest and family. Intentionally schedule it on your calendar. Then, work up to a full day and guard this rest day like gold!
4. Revisit your priorities. Become more intentional with your priorities and pursuits in life. Determine what are the most significant contributions you can offer. Then, schedule your time around those first. Busyness is, at its core, about misplaced priorities. Download an app like In Moment and see how much time you spend on social media and even limit that time through the app. One of my favourite prioritization tools is my "Big 3". I've talked about this tons already, but, essentially, this is a list of three things that I must handle today for my day to be complete. As a creative entrepreneur, I have a growing list of ideas and inspirations along with good ole' To Dos. To try to keep myself on task, I take three of those tasks each day and, relentlessly, focus on their completion. This has become a great tool both to keep me focused on one job but also to draw a line between when my kitchen table is a desk and when it's back to the table.
5. Own fewer possessions. One of the biggest lessons popularized from the smash hit book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (that I'd already known for years - humblebrag) is that the things we own take up far more time and mental energy than we realize. They need to be cleaned, organized, and maintained. And the more we own, the more time is required. Own less stuff. Take a page from my book and intentionally live in a tiny house so that you don't have room to take on stuff. Do you know what's more valuable than things? Time!
6. Prioritize space in your daily routine. Take time to go for a walk over lunch. Find space in your morning to sit quietly before starting your day. Invest in a yoga practice. Find opportunity for breaks at work in between projects. Drive in your car without turning on the radio or music. Even notice the little pause between your breaths. Try it now: inhale. Exhale. Now notice the pause before inhaling again. There's possibility in space. Space is where our creativity thrives. It's where we connect to ourselves and each other. Begin cultivating little moments of space in your otherwise busy day and see how the brain starts to change.
7. Practice “no". Recognize the inherent value in the word “no.” Learning to say “no” to less important commitments opens your life to pursue the most important.
Busy does not need to define you. Unbusy is possible. It’s okay to be happy with a calm life. And, honestly, considering the chaos and uncertainty of our political and social climate, doesn’t calmness sound pretty wonderful?
I wrote this piece a few years ago and, just yesterday, it showed up on my personal newsfeed. It still hits me right in the feels, so I was inspired to share it with all of you.
As a yoga studio owner and instructor, I am always seeking knowledge. I often look in yoga-based magazines, books and online resources to deepen my personal practice and, by extension, what I offer as a teacher. This never ending search has lead me to some of the most incredible discoveries of my life, but it has also lead me to witness a presentation of yoga as a trend; a branded yoga, a sexy yoga, a fashionable yoga, a yoga for "losing those stubborn 10 lbs. FAST!". It sometimes shouts right in my face that I do not belong because I do not look like a 'yogi'.
This is not the yoga that I know. This is not the yoga that fills me with light or the yoga that I crawl to on my knees in desperation. My yoga can't be 'selfied'. It is not owned by a corporation. It is not better than or worse than. It is me ... in this moment. My yoga is unbiased, without expectation, judgement-free. She enables me to live fully and love deeply. To be as grounded in the ebb as I am in the flow.
Once, a long time ago, I forgot who my yoga was. I lost her in the rush of my day-to-day life. You see, my yoga is not always blissful. She can be tortuous, unrelenting, ugly, and uncomfortable. It was easier to be busy than accountable to the steady beat of my own heart telling me to do the work and to keep me on my path. I missed my yoga at first, but it was much easier to get swallowed up by the hypnotic siren virus that is 'busyness'.
Then, one day, I took myself deep into nature. I cut off from technology and creature comforts and I had nothing to busy myself with. There, in a pre-dawn darkness that was so deep, it swallowed and filled me all at once, I was silent enough to hear her softly calling to me. I dove into the blackness. Alone and draped in nothing but the night, I found my yoga again. There was no one to there tell me that this body wasn't right, didn't fit or wasn't beautiful. I could not see with eyes that polarize and judge. I could only feel my yoga. I saw my truest self without vision. I knew her. I was her.
I became overwhelmed with gratitude for this body for bringing my yoga to me. This body a full-fledged bootylicious miracle! This is the body that my parents, the two people I love most in the world, created. These chubby legs ran after my brothers (and, yes, my thighs touched with every stride). These sausage fingers helped deliver a fucking baby! This is the abundant body that the man of my dreams fell in love with. The round face that my community resonates with. The flabby arms that embrace my baby girl every day. Each time I come to my mat and move this body, I am reminded of just how grateful I am.
Your yoga is waiting for you even if you never step foot on a yoga mat your whole life. You are her. She's in there. One day, you will meet her, you will know her, you will love her and you will never be able to live without her ever again.
Last Tuesday, I had written a blog to send to you all about how time is our shared currency (and most of us are running low) with some time management misconceptions that I've discovered and some ways to avoid unproductive booby traps. It was great. You'll see (I'll send it this week). Then, the phone rang and on the other end was the best news that I have ever received: our daughter (up until that point, our "foster daughter") was now a Crown Ward. From that point on, I couldn't consider doing very much else other than hold my daughter, play with her, cry a lot (tears of joy), and spend every waking moment with her and my husband, family, and closest friends. While I did keep working a little later in the week, it just felt odd to send out the blog post I had planned instead of this story with all of you - my closest followers and friends. It felt so impersonal and not at all authentic to what was actually happening in my life. So, while this blog post may not help you deepen your practice, I feel like I would almost be lying to you if I didn't share this story with you. The whole story - from the moment I met my daughter to the moment she became my daughter.
You have already read a little bit about this journey in my blog post entitled How my practice has supported me in my first year as a Mom; however, I was purposefully vague when discussing our situation because, up until this past Tuesday, we were still just fostering this baby, our foster daughter. Legally, someone else's child. Long before this though, my husband and I went through a tedious process to become approved to adopt a child through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (CAS). This included baby proofing every corner of our home, undergoing nearly a dozen interviews lasting two to four hours each, and completing a 12-week course about fostering and adoption. We were approved in March, 2014 and waited for almost three years before we received a call that the baby we had been waiting for was expected to be born late December 2016. On December 19, I got a call that she was born (a week early) and, with five days between finding out about her existence and this call, we brought her home on December 20, 2016.
If you're not familiar with the current process to foster/adopt, if a child under two is apprehended from their birth parents, they are placed in a home like ours: a "foster-with-a-view" home. Here, the foster parents who are caring for the children will also be the ones to adopt them should their biological parents be unable to regain custody. In the old way, children first went to foster homes - a transient home where people knowingly care for other people's children in the short-term. Then, once the legalities were sorted out, the child was returned back to their birth parents or was moved once again to the forever family. This new system means more stability for children, as they may be in their forever homes from day one or, at the least, limit the number of moves they experience. But, for foster-with-a-view parents like us, the risk of children being returned to their birth families is quite high. CAS works very hard to help birth families get the skills or support they need to keep their family together as this is the best outcome for the child. They even favour kin placements with neighbours, family friends, and biological family members over foster-with-a-view parents. For these, and many, reasons, we knew that this perfect little angel was precariously placed in our arms, to say the least.
On December 20, 2016, I followed the local CAS worker into the locked hospital ward with my husband beside me. Winding through what seemed like an endless stream of bassinets and incubators, I eagerly looked from one to the next, looking for a familiar face, though I had never seen the baby before. Finally, we turned a corner and the CAS worker stopped, turning to me as if presenting the room ahead. In that room there were two bassinets, with two tiny bundles inside them. I looked from one to the next, then back to the CAS worker, asking which one she was. She gestured to my left and my feet lifted off the floor. I floated across the room and lifted the lightest bundle of baby into my arms and that was it. In that moment, I became her mother. More, I realized that I had been her mother since time began. I had been missing this piece of myself that I had now found. She and I had meant to find each other. I felt it in my bones. It was written in the stars.
The 15 months that followed were some of the most joyous and the most trying of my entire life. Of course, I went though the same adjustments that all mothers manage. As well, there were supervised visits with her birth parents for two hours a day, three days a week, court dates, home visits, and so so so much documentation and paperwork. Hardest of all, there were moments of intense fear that I would have to say goodbye to the second half of my heart. All of that came to a head at 5:19 p.m. this past Tuesday, when the news we had been waiting for, hoping for, praying for, finally came.
To be honest, I have been healing some deep seated trauma this past week. Trauma from back in 2005 when I was told that I could not have children, from waiting and waiting for her, from the past 15 months ... all of it. All of it is in the past though. Here she is. My daughter. Isabella Joy. From the moment I saw her, I was her mother. I was her mother before I ever met her. I grew her in my heart. When I met her, everything in the world made sense. Regardless of who's home she was living in, I was going to be her mother for the rest of my life.
Needless to say, my head has since been in a bit of a fog! I'm still not over it. I'll never be over it. But, the constant stream of company - family and friends who felt compelled to hold her (and me) once they heard the news - has dissipated and my feet are closer to the ground. Tomorrow, Isabella will be back to the routine of daycare and I'll be back in the studio. I'll never lose the magic of this week. I know from experience, it's like being faced with a life-threatening illness, disease, injury, or surgery, and coming out the other side with a new perspective on life. You never forget, it lives in your consciousness forever. It affects how you understand the world forever, but you can also, eventually, ground yourself to a new normal. That and, throughout the last 15 months, amongst all the turmoil, we have been grounded daily by the routines that a baby creates: naps, feedings, diapers, playtime, cuddles, repeat, repeat, repeat.
I have been her mother since before I met her. Since time began and it was written in the stars that we would be together. Since December 20, 2016. Forever and always.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.
This week was a particularly stressful one for me. Not that it wasn't full of joys and balance, but for the most part it was overwhelming and left me feeling out of control. One of the insidious ways that I try to regain control is that I become obsessed with perfectionism. It's this awful cycle: stress and lack of control -> perfectionism -> self-criticism -> anxiety -> loss of confidence -> greater feelings of failure and over and over and over and over.
Frustratingly, perfectionism is almost revered! Mention that you spent the weekend doing laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the interior of your car, flipping your mattresses, prepping your family's meals for the week, running errands, Spring cleaning the house, and so on and people will ooo and aww over how you manage to "do it all". Mention that you turned off your alarm clock, read a book you've been meaning to finish, went to a yoga class, and spent some time outside this weekend, and people almost shame your commitment to wellness ("Ohhh, that must be niiiice"). As if the latter isn't work at all! What are we to think about the value of these qualities?
Here's the thing about perfectionism though: it does the complete opposite of what you THINK it will do! When I am wearing my perfectionist hat, I have a certain set of unwritten rules or guidelines governing how things should be done, what the results should be and what they should look like. Any deviation – even if the task is completed properly – makes a good job seem like a botched operation. The end result, of course, is that even if something is done right, it’s still fundamentally wrong. This lack of flexibility makes it difficult to switch gears and try new methods – even if a new approach will save time and effort. Making matters worse, as it does, the stress can spread to those around me because I have the unrealistic expectations and a set of rules for governing yourself that make no sense and that I can't even express and yet, somehow, everyone is breaking the topsy turvy rules. It's nonsense. But, don't try to tell me it's nonsense when I am stuck on auto-perfect because I'm bound to burst into tears or punch you in the throat.
It's so confusing though because, when I am stuck in a cycle of perfectionism, I am undoubtedly good at what I do, people LOVE to compliment perfectionism, but this leads to a cycle of self-limitation. If there’s one thing I fear the most when I'm off balance in this way, it’s making mistakes. I already feel out-of-control and making mistakes can feel like a lack of control. That's just one way to look at mistakes though. You can’t learn how to do something without getting it wrong! I think of my daughter falling about a MILLION times as she was learning to walk. First she moved her arms and legs, then rolled, then crawled, all on her journey towards walking and falling falling falling again for over a year without ever giving up and without losing her enthusiasm for trying either. Not only are mistakes a normal part of our development, but they also often lead to new discoveries. If Alexander Fleming had been perfectionist enough to keep his lab clean, we wouldn’t have penicillin!
The place that I try to relax my perfectionist grip the most is when I am acting as Studio Director at Life Yoga. Any leader will tell you that it's a tough role as you try to strike a balance between being professional without becoming too friendly. The best leaders set realistic expectations and give their team a certain degree of autonomy. Perfectionist bosses? Not so much. Anyone who’s dealt with a perfectionist leader no doubt will complain about micromanagement, excessive expectations, and a low tolerance for mistakes. If you’re in a position of leadership – however small – keep in mind that your perfectionist tendencies (if any) will achieve the exact opposite of what you hope to get.
I am most sensitive to this tendency towards perfectionism now that I am a Mom. I read in Psychology Today, that perfectionists are built, not born. Parents with high expectations – be it academic, social or organizational – often put that strain on their children, leading to a continuous cycle. And while these individuals mean well, they’re setting their kids up for what could be a lifestyle of stress, self-doubt, and poor health. I want to teach my daughter to care about her academic work and practice good habits like cleaning up after herself but, I don't want her to model my perfectionist imbalances as everyday ways of being. She is ageing me so much already - it's hilarious usually - and it makes me hyperaware of what I am saying without saying a word.
When I realize that my perfectionist tendencies are swinging to the side of unhealthy obsession, I do what I always to to connect me back to the truer parts of myself: I practice. Sure enough the further I get from my mat, the more concerned I become with everything being just so. When I take a few minutes to meditate, I remember the truth of things, I see the bigger picture, and I can take the time to deal with feelings of stress and lack of control in a healthy way.
Inspired by my friends at The Yoga and Body Image Coalition and their sincere efforts throughout National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I felt compelled to share this short piece with you. I wrote it as a guided mindfulness practice directing love to oneself for Valentine's Day this year. Below, you will find a link to an audio file version of this guided meditation that you can listen to should you lose sight of the inherent miracle that you are.
My intention in sharing these resources is to help raise awareness about the serious nature of eating disorders and to help direct those affected to receive the help they need and deserve.
Thank you to my eyes for the ability to see the beauty that is all around me: the sun; the trees; a smile on a friendly face. Thank you for seeing our shared humanity - from my windows to another's. Thank you, eyes, for my highest vision. Thank you for your belief in the dreams that you house and your glimpse into things unseen.
Thank you to my ears for your willingness to stay open to all experiences. I can close my eyes or mute my voice, but you, ears, stay present without reservation. Thank you for reminding me that all expressions are equally worthy of my attention. Thank you for your example of undiscriminating observation.
Thank you to my voice for acting as the bridge between my mind, my heart, my vision, and the rest of the world. Thank you for your bravery, even if you sometimes shake. Thank you for the words - sung, spoken, whispered, or written - that empower and elevate. Thank you for your direct line to my expression of Self and for the secrets that we share that you communicate discerningly.
Thank you to my heart for keeping me honest. Thank you for aligning me with my sense of wonder and joy. Thank you for housing the experiences for which there are no words. Thank you, heart, for your vulnerability; for teaching me about hope. Mostly, soft heart, thank you for blossoming without reservation and for radiating your gifts despite adversity, fear, and efforts to dull your shine.
Thank you to my hands for allowing me to share generously and accept what I need with gratitude. Thank you for your acts of love, compassion, and connection when words cannot express. Thank you for your guidance and protection. Thank you, hands, for teaching me when to extend and when to withdraw.
Thank you to my feet for allowing me to stand present in this moment; for your support and for your steady rhythm. Thank you for the wisdom to guide me on my path.
Thank you to my body for humbling me; for being the home within which I reside and the vehicle that allows me to share with and experience the world. Thank you for teaching me about cause and effect, growth and loss, attachment and trust. Thank you, body, for your daily reminders of my limitless potential and your willingness to adapt.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
This week, I was thrilled to host my first monthly Yoga Teacher TuneUp call via Google Hangout. As part of my "Wonder • Learn • Integrate • Share" model of teaching, these calls are designed to get people thinking about the tools we can synthesize to create experiences that are compassionate, brave, inclusive, and empowering. This first discussion was all about language. Maybe more than any other tool that we have, language has the unique ability to strengthen or weaken each of the four pillars of our practice (compassionate, brave, inclusive, and empowering). I was so thrilled to have so many heart-centred, responsible teachers join me on the call.
Those who know me or have studied with me (or read this blog) know that I am very particular about language on and off the mat. It’s super subtle sometimes, but the way that we use language has the potential to empower or demoralize and injects energy into - or draws from - our purpose. When we discuss language in the studio or gym setting, we could talk about supporting different types of learning styles with our choice of words, the volume of our voice, creating biographies and class descriptions, etc. This conversation can evolve and branch out in tons of interesting directions; however, in the interest of time, this call was really just focused on vocabulary choices while you're teaching in a studio space or gym.
We are so fortunate to be witnessing an ongoing growth, expansion, and diversification of our communities to include the full spectrum of the human experience: whether it be by age, race, body size, ability, gender identity, and so on. So, as yoga teachers, we need to constantly be asking ourselves "How can we teach in a way that includes and resonates with everyone at once?" For me, this translates to: how can we, as teachers, connect to our compassionate hart, bolster our understanding through education, be mindful with our words, and empower through our practice. This starts with cultivating a sensitivity to and awareness of cultural and social norms that are unlike your own.
So how do we do that?
Let me first paint a picture for you: I often see teachers advertising their classes as "Yoga for EveryBODY". While I believe that many studios intend to be inclusive and accessible, the reality is that a safe container conducive to learning and transformation doesn't manifest from good intentions alone. Take a look at these yoga studios' websites ... oftentimes, all the images are of thin, white, flexible women. All are well-dressed with perfectly coifed hair in branded yoga clothing and matching accessories. Then, when you arrive at the studio, it's on the second story of a building with no elevator access. The yoga mats are two inches from one another and there is nary a block or strap in sight. When you are represented in the photos you see, your able-body allows you to climb the flight of stairs no problem, and your strength and flexibility allows for you to access most asana unassisted, it's easy to feel like this space is welcoming because it's welcoming to you. Can we really say that this class is for everyBODY?
When yoga teachers/studios want to be sure that they are not just paying lip service to accessibility, they can start off by reading up on conversations about inclusivity in other contexts. You see, yoga may only just be on the verge of accessibility, but conversations about diversity have been going on beyond the yoga studio for decades now. Think about the corporate world, academia, the tech world, and so on. How did these communities tackle the questions that you may have about accessibility?
There are also incredibly positive examples in the yoga world that we can align ourselves with. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition, the Yoga Service Council, and Accessible Yoga are just a few. Seek out these leaders. Like and Follow them and the people/groups that they feature. Integrate their best practices and be sure to post on your own social media images and representations of the practice that embody the full spectrum of life.
Examine and acknowledge your privilege and power with compassion. If we want to talk about yoga as a tool in social change and whether all bodies are welcome, we need to understand how our privilege grants us access to the practice and the studios with which we practice. It is important to recognize your privilege in order to recognize those who do not have the same privileges as you.
If you look outside of your own experiences and want to reach out to discover and support the needs of people who aren’t like yourself, it is necessary that you collaborate with the communities that you wish to serve. Volunteer and listen to their stories so that you can cultivate sensitivity to and awareness of cultural and social norms. Get real about conscious/unconscious assumptions that you may make with the desire to overcome them and learn to work with this community in a way that doesn't inadvertently offend, demoralize, dismiss, or exclude.
Lastly, when we're embodying progressiveness, we have to be willing to change the way we think about things (including ourselves). Be humble. Admit when you made a mistake or misunderstand something. Seek to know better and do better and consider everything as an opportunity for learning. Take it to heart, but don't take it personally.
A few years ago, I facilitated a four-day yoga retreat off-the-grid in Northern Ontario. During our opening circle, one of the generous participants shared how she was eager to learn some techniques for staying present. She was a mom to two teenage boys and she was desperate to slow down the hands of time. Teary-eyed, she confessed, “we spent the whole summer together and I can hardly remember it. I’m missing out on my own life”. This was an experience that stuck with me. From that retreat on, I have focused time and energy towards cultivating an awareness of and appreciation for this present moment and it has changed my life. It connects me sincerely to the people around me, it keeps my thoughts focused, and infuses my work with energy. I have been most grateful for these practices in the last 14 months – since we brought our daughter home from the hospital in late December, 2016.
Before I go any further, a little background: my husband and I are in the process of adopting our daughter. We are working with our local Children’s Aid (now called “Family & Children’s Services”, or FACS) as “foster-with-a-view” parents. Without getting too much into detail, the intention of fostering with a view is to place children who have come to be in the care of FACS in what may be their permanent homes as quickly as possible. Prior to this system, children in the custody of FACS were placed in a foster home while birth parents were supported in gaining the skills they need to provide a loving and safe home for their child. If they were not interested or unable to do so, fostered children would then be transitioned to their forever homes, oftentimes months after first being placed in care. As a result, children who are vulnerable to attachment disorders would be taken from the foster families they called home for months and placed with a new family (for at least the third time) whom they were expected to re-attach and form healthy relationships with. In this new system, children under the age of two who come into care are placed with foster-with-a-view families in the hopes that they will only ever make that one move or, if birth parents can create the homes these children need, return to their birth families. FACS calls this "co-planning"; on the one hand, supporting us to raise a healthy and well-adjusted child and, on the other hand, supporting her birth parents to bring her back home ... It's been an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. In our case, this is a process that has drawn out for over a year and the baby we’ve had in our home since she was born won't be officially adopted until her case goes before a judge who will make a ruling one way or the other. Though this hasn't happened yet, I call myself a Mother and she my daughter because, short of carrying her in my womb and birthing her from my body, I have been the only Mom that my daughter has known since her birth. She was born on a Sunday, we got a call to let us know the following day, and, early Tuesday morning, she was in my arms.
Over the course of this year, I have been responsible for caring for my daughter in the same ways that any new Mom does and was tasked with the additional expectation of bringing the baby to scheduled two-hour visits with her biological parents three times per week. Try being anywhere on time as a new parent with a baby, let alone three times per week! Nonetheless, this was what we have had to do as part of the process; however, as she and I became more and more attached, it became increasingly difficult to leave her for the two hour visits. As her nap times shifted with every growth spurt, visits often cut naps short or happen right during her usual naptime. She has never been able to settle well for her birth parents and these visits are supervised by Family & Children’s Services, so she is usually one of many children in a playgroup with a dozen or so other families like ours – not the ideal naptime setup. Needless to say, I often pick up an anxious, tired, and overall unhappy baby who is too young to understand why her Mommy left her there and didn't come back when she cried for her. To make these drop-offs a little more emotionally manageable for both she and I, I always reassured her that, if she needed me to, I’d spend the whole rest of our day holding her (as she often napped twice as long post-visits). I made her that promise getting ready for our first visit when she was just three days old - the first day in our home - and, since then, most visit days, she takes me up on this offer. I have to reconcile this stillness with the productive, multi-task-aholic side of me. But I am reminded of that woman at the retreat all those years ago and I know that this is the most important “To Do” on my list.
While you may not be able to relate to that particular situation, I think most parents still experience this dual pull: one towards your baby, who loves nothing more than being in your arms and another towards the dishes, the laundry, making dinner, heck, some days, just a shower! I find a lot of parents (including my husband) often look forward to the next stage in my daughter’s development or ponder about her future, whereas, after years of practice, I mostly sit with her real-time. Whether it’s their first steps, starting school, or graduating from college, virtually every parent I have met has uttered some variation of “they grow up so fast” or “where did the time go?” Well, that’s a good question … I mean, a year is a year. There are the same amounts of hours, days, weeks, and months. A minute is always 60 seconds and an hour is always 60 minutes. Yet to so many parents, it feels like everything happens overnight. I am so grateful to the practice for arming me with the tools I need to stay present, but especially in this role as a Mama. It doesn’t feel like these 14-months have gone by “so fast” … it feels exactly like 14-months. I spent my days holding my infant, then watching and supporting my baby, and now playing with my toddler on her level as though there was nothing else I had to do. I know that I can set aside time for other work when she is napping or on the days that she is at daycare. Sure, I had to cut back on my teaching in the studio, my email can pile up, and I have spent far too many late nights trying to catchup on my work. But, I have no regrets knowing that I have been fully present for every smile, clap, hug, and milestone. Yoga is what gave me this perspective and skill.
When I became a Mother, I was struck with the sense of responsibility that this role requires. Especially in these formative first years, we are shaping a person (whether we’re conscious of it or not)! I’ve realized that presence isn't just about remaining in the moment. It’s also about being aware of your words and actions. My daily meditation practice has supported me to remain self-aware in all of my conscious communication. What we say to our children becomes their inner voice and our words and deeds help shape their understanding of the world and their role within it. This is a huge burden to bear. I turn inwards to my mediation practice to keep my vision for her future clear when seeking the right intention, right words, and right action.
As well as giving me the skills to stay present, yoga has given me the physical strength and mobility to raise my daughter. It has been in these last 14-months that I added a strength training component to my regular yoga practice and my body has never been more stable, strong, supple, or more taxed! My daughter has grown from 6.6 to a whopping 23 lbs. When you factor in the diaper bag and car seat, I’m loading 50-100 extra pounds daily. Add the 43 foot plunge into her crib (at least it FEELS like 43 feet), hauls into and out of the car seat, and the strain put on my erector spinae as those little hands grip my fingers and take step after tentative step, and my. body. is. SORE! Here’s the conundrum: never has my physical body needed yoga so badly in my life, yet never have I been so exhausted. Every yogi has been there – knowing that we’ll feel so much better post-practice, but too busy, sore, tired, or stressed to think about taking that time. After we chose the mat, every time without fail, it seems like such a no-brainer, but that’s post-practice! That’s after you’ve taken the time to connect inwards. That’s 60 full minutes of consciously removing yourself from the rat race and taking control of your life again. As a Mom, my practice is not a hobby or pastime, it is as necessary for my wellness as water, food, and air! Without it, as a sufferer of chronic pain, I would miss out on time with my daughter as I immobilized myself in bed or I would be unable to fully participate in our lives - to squat down, to run after her, to sit on the floor, or slide down toboggan hills. My physical body has never been more grateful for my practice than in these last 14-months. There is nothing that motivates me to come to the mat more than days spent trying to keep up with that energetic little girl.
Mamas, come here. Let me hold you for a few minutes because holy shit does a baby take what you thought you knew about the world and flip it upside down! Physically, emotionally, mentally, financially … it’s stressful. Would you trade it for anything in the world? Hell no! Are you blown away on the daily by the magic and wonder that this love of your life brings you? Yea huh! AND whether it’s sleep deprivation, tests to your patience, disconnection from your body, confusing and contradictory advice (sought out or - more often - unsolicited), a redefinition of your relationships with your parents, your partner, and yourself, that pinch in your neck that just never seems to go away, the tribulations of putting your career on the backburner … the only constant that has always been there (pre- and post-baby) has been my mat and this practice. Yoga is my doorway back to my Deeper Self and this practice restores and solidifies a much-needed sense of trust. It’s this trust that allows me to persevere, even when things are at their hardest.
We often think of “yoga” and “motherhood” as nouns – things that we do. They’re our pastime and our role; our hobby and our duty; our escape and our stressor. But, as seasoned practitioners will describe over and over again, after a time, “yoga” becomes an adjective – interwoven into your ‘you-ness’. I’ve come to realize that Motherhood is just the same. With practice and mindful connection, yoga and motherhood both become more than just things that you do – they define who you are, create a blueprint for your life, and reveal the gifts of your dharma.
When I was younger, I was always called a “social butterfly”. Flittering between cliques, I had my core group of friends, sure, but I was comfortable in nearly every social situation in a way that was unique in the harsh jungle gyms of adolescents. Always a nerd (in the best possible way), my teachers’ only constructive criticism on Parent-Teacher Night or on my report cards were always variations of “Carly talks a lot in class”.
Throughout my teens, this served me well as I moved neighbourhoods, moved schools, got my first job, and really started to experience the “real world”. In my career now, I realize that what injects me with joy and has shaped my path in the world is my love of community. Whether it’s creating specific classes to create communities (“Yoga for Bigger Bodied People”) or designing the yoga studio to encourage it (benches in the lobby, lots of time before and after classes, etc.), community is always at the heart of what I do.
That’s one of the reasons why I love social media so much! It informs me about places or points of view that I don’t get to see in my day-to-day interactions, keeps me connected to people I meet at conferences or retreats, allows me to interact in pockets of community that may not exist here in my backyard, and has the potential to spread my messages of love and ability to so many more people than just my voice alone. That said, I recognize that social media can be a tool to empower or to demoralize, not only by what we present on social media, but through our relationships with what we see.
I have seen friends and family members make the leap and cut themselves off from social media completely. They delete their accounts because it’s sucking up too much of their time, they are disturbed by what they see, it’s affecting their mental health, or they are, ironically, disconnecting from the people around them and glueing themselves to their screens instead. While I support anyone in their choices to do so, complete separation just doesn’t feel right to me. A big part of my social and professional* life take place online, so here I am, mindfully connected. Over the years I have developed some super simple ways to do so that might work for you as well, so here they are:
1. Be a conscious and vigilant scroller. What we see, even if in passing, has an affect on our energy. It has the ability to raise us up or pull us under. This is why it’s so important to open your senses to what you’re reading and who you’re following. If you follow an Instagrammer because you’re inspired by her perseverance and motivated by her posts, perfection; however, if the negative self-talk snakes slither out when you see that six pack and your Newsfeed makes you scared to leave your house in the morning, you need to protect your mental health. While it can be enlightening to be presented with perspectives in contrary to your own, we have to recognize the ways that we can be triggered. Staying connected - present and mindful - to what you’re reading/seeing AND how it is making you feel is the key here. Remember too, this doesn’t mean an irrevocable decision to remove your source of stress from your life forever. You can always unmute, unblock, re-follow, or re-freiend when you’re feeling stronger if you want to do so. Those algorithms on social media are sneaky little suckers. The sponsored ads are the worst culprits in my Newsfeed for bullshit claims that focus on fast weight loss and promote unhealthy ideals of beauty. I’m aware of and sensitive to the ways that these companies hide behind messages of wellness when they are, in truth, commodifying our bodies and selling the manufactured yoga goddess image. While you cannot control when such triggerring messages slide into your Newsfeed, you can block the ad or, better yet, report it. This will not only get it out of your space, but tell companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that you are not interested in scams, propoganda, fear-based advertising, or promoting unhealthy/unsafe ideals of beauty attainable to the few genetically priviledged and harmful to the rest of us.
2. Be mindful about the message that you’re sending. I think that there is great strength that comes with authenticity representing the full spectrum of human experience on our social media profiles if it is connection that we’re seeking. Like the brilliant Brenè Brown says “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path”. Perfect lives don’t exist. When one has excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations, it’s like they can’t ever post their house a mess, or when they’re having a bad day, or even when life is just kind of meh. So, it’s always planned, staged, and edited to present this picture of perfection. Not only is this harmful for the person posting, but it is harmful for the audience. Perfectionism is not attainable because it feeds itself. Studies have shown that this type of behaviour online puts us at greater risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts because we can never achieve perfection because IT DOES NOT EXIST. Post your triumphs - I want to see them and celebrate them with you - but post your failures and hardships as well, so that we can better support one another and connect in a more meaningful way.
3. Follow people who feed your soul (and the ones that feed theirs). When you’re scrolling away and listening to that internal dialogue, cozy up to the people who inspire, motivate, and bring out the best in you. Follow them and, on their Page, set your settings so that their posts will always show up in your Newsfeed. Then, watch for the people they Repost and talk about and look into following those people. This is how you’ll start to surround yourself with influencers and transform your social media experience to one that elevates you and authentically aligns us on our paths.
3. Mute, block, unfollow, and unfriend. Not only can you choose who you follow, but you can limit the voices of people who are triggering you in a myriad of ways. Consider muting, blocking, unfollowing, or unfriending not only accounts who are outright harmful to your mental health, but also the people taking up too much of your time and energy. The people you care about shouldn’t be buried among the people you passively follow. Maybe your Great Aunt isn’t hurting you with all of her posts asking you to “Type YES if you agree”. Maybe you aren’t drawn into her goading you with “I believe a select few of my friends will post this …”. But, all her memes are definitely filling your mental headspace and, possibly, overshadowing the messages from the people you want to see, so why keep her posts on your newsfeed? Same goes for Pages that no longer represent your goals or interests. Be vigilant. Your social media experiences ought to be intentional, focused, and in service to your highest purpose.
4. Turn off your notifications and schedule in social media time. Here’s a big one. I recently turned off all my notifications for email, Facebook, Pages, Messenger, Twitter, and Instagram. This has freed me up from the compulsive checking over and over again every time I see a little red circle over the icon on my phone. Hand-in-hand with this leap to freeing myself from being a slave to the screen, I schedule time throughout my day for scrolling and social media. This idea was introduced to me from my brilliant friend Meaghan who doesn’t polarize her focus jumping in and out of social media every time her phone dings. She taught me to focus on the task at hand and, a few times a day (for a set amount of time), to give myself permission to scroll and distract myself with social media. This time limit makes the selection of who you follow and unfollow so much more important. Is this person going to take up your social media time and leave you depleted or inspire and enliven you? Do you know the average person spends OVER TWO HOURS A DAY on social media? Is that how you want to be spending your time? Maybe. If not, scheduling your social media time may be an excellent idea. Maybe time yourself on social media for a week or so to get a good idea about how much time, on average, you spend online and consider limiting yourself by even just an extra 30 minutes. You could use those extra 30 minutes to treat yourself to a long bath, read that book that’s been on your nightstand forever, call a friend, or catch up on whatever else you’ve been meaning to do!
5. Use that Do Not Disturb function. In your phone settings, you can set up Do Not Disturb daily at certain times. This function silences calls and alerts. Consider scheduling ‘off time’ everyday - maybe from 10pm to 7am. To give your brain a little break. You can adjust the settings to allow calls from certain people, allow calls when people call twice within three minutes, etc., so you’ll still be reached in case of emergency.
6. Don’t let your children see your phone unless you’re making a call. This is a big one for me. More and more I am reading about potential risks of screen media for children (especially children younger than 5 years-old). Most experts agree, in order to promote healthy habits for our children, their early media experiences should be minimized, mitigated, and mindful and this starts with modelling healthy use of screens. For our house, this means that I never want my daughter to see the top of my head. The phone acts as a phone, sometimes a camera (let’s be honest), but SHE has my attention more than the screen in my palm. The best feeling in the world was when she first came along and I would catch myself having no idea where my phone was because I was so present with my wee one. This is what living looks like!
7. Whether you have children in your home or not, set up ‘No Phone Zones’ in your home. Maybe it’s the kitchen table. Maybe it’s the bedroom. Consider the spaces in your home where you want to be fully present and make these spaces phone-free. Stack your phones at the door before entry to safeguard your sacred spaces.
8. (CHALLENGE) Once day a week - or a month to start - go COMPLETELY phone-free. I started to do this one day a week - usually on a weekend - after I upgraded my last phone. My husband took the phone to the store to trade it in and I felt panicked. What if someone was trying to reach me? What if I miss an important email? What if someone messages my business Page? I worked hard for that response rate badge and now it’s getting tossed out the window! After a few minutes, I settled down (not without hearing phantom dings and pings or reaching to my pocket for a phone that wasn’t there). Then, when he came home with my new phone, I was SO relieved and immediately checked to see that I had missed basically nothing. How humiliating. I felt so chained to this stupid piece of glass and plastic … You win Steve Jobs! That’s when I vowed to purposefully go phone-free one day a week. If I am travelling, I’ll just turn it off (in case of emergency), but if I am home, it just lives on Do Not Disturb mode upstairs on my nightstand. If once a month or once a week feels overwhelming, try it for even one day and you’ll gain such an interesting perspective on the world. Not only do you get the chance to actually look at people, maybe even talk to them, to be bored, and to wonder without the luxery of asking Siri to find every answer, but you’ll also see how the world interacts with their devices. Not until I was out of that zombie-like obsession did I see it: dead silence in a room full of people; people scrolling for HOURS and, when asked what they were reading, they were so disconnected from it that they say “Oh, nothing” because there is no substance to what they’re reading and/or they’re not reading in a mindful way; meals being eaten together, but separate with each family member on their own screens; I could go on. Nooooo thank you! I promise, you step away from that world for a day and see it for what it is and your relationship to that phone will be forever changed.
Again, I love social media. i don’t want it to sound like I am in my off-the-grid cabin judging everyone who participates online. I am VERY online and I love it; however, like everything else that we do, i think we need to be intentional in how we participate with it and mindful when engaging in order to ensure that this is a tool that is uplifting us and not one that is contributing to our imbalance and illness.
*Keep in mind that, because my professional life includes an active online presence, most of these rules don’t apply during business hours. These are the rules during my personal/family time, which will likely be most applicable to your life anyways unless you also integrate social media into your work. That said, some of these tips are still super relevant in order to be productive in our work and we still need to be mindful or else you’re in for another embarrassing Parent-Teacher Night.