Be Nice

In this morning’s class, I felt compelled to recite a poem or quote to my students. I turned to my Pinterest board of quotes and out of all the thumbnails, this is the one that jumped out at me:

Genius, right?

And yet…NOT being hard on ourselves is really hard to do.

I don’t know about you, because there’s a chance I may not even know you, but I know myself: I am really good at taking care of other people. Every job I have held, save for one, has been a job of service to others: an assistant, a book keeper, a dog walker, a pet sitter, a nanny, and now a yoga teacher. I love taking care of people. I love helping people. As I mentioned in my first post: I just want everyone to be happy.

Growing up, I was constantly described as “too nice” by other people…and yet I was pretty horrible to myself. I beat myself up, put myself down, and pushed myself too hard. And oftentimes, I still do.

I can’t imagine this not resonating with just about everybody. We are so good at being good to others, but never showing ourselves that same amount of tenderness, of kindness, of support.  And why would we? We live in a world that encourages us to be unhappy with ourselves. Everywhere we look, especially in LA, we are INUNDATED with images of what we should look like and what we should wear or drive or eat. We are programed to believe that "If I just had that..." and "If I just looked like..." "...THEN I'd be happy." 

Why?

Oh man, there are so many reasons why, and I am sure if I keep this blog up, I'll end up talking about our government and politics (much to my boyfriend’s dismay).  But for now, let’s keep it universal: we tie our worth and value to everything and everyone outside of ourselves, assuming the love and praise of another is infinitely more valuable than that which we can give ourselves. And yet, we don't think we deserve the love and praise of another just for being ourselves.  We diet, we work-out, we carefully strategize what we post online so we appear to be something bigger, something better, something more than what we are. 

We are too hard on ourselves because we don't think we are enough. 

I will be honest with you: a lot of being a yoga instructor in Los Angeles nowadays has little to do with being a yoga instructor and more to do with how sexy you look without a shirt on and if you have a strong Instagram following. 

As an instructor and a trainer, my worth-literally my financial worth and quality of life is tied up in whether or not you showed up on your mat that day. When classes dwindle or clients go out of town, your classes become at risk of being put on a cutting board.  When you see or meet social media influencers that may not even be certified posting that they're teaching at a studio nearby or selling fitness programs online that people are buying...it's slightly terrifying, and very disheartening. I absolutely go through phases where I beat the crap out of myself: convincing myself my classes are not selling out anymore because I'm not sexy enough, I don't post on social media enough, I don't play Drake or The Weekend enough... 

Ridiculous, right? And I KNOW that. I think deep down we all KNOW when we're being absurd. But that doesn't stop that hamster wheel of self-doubt from spinning. 

I woke up one morning last month and noticed that my jaw was hurting.  By the end of the day, my jaw had shifted out of place and I could no longer close my mouth.  It stayed like that for almost two weeks.  I went to acupuncture, I got a special pillow, I went to a chiropractor, I got a massage…and the main consensus was stress. I was being so unkind, so hard on myself that my jaw literally moved out of place! My body breaks down when something is happening emotionally or psychologically, and it really forces me to confront whatever is happening and remedy the behavior.  I became obsessed with staying calm and relaxed, continued my chiro and acupuncture visits and then, just as quickly as it moved out of place, my jaw went back into place. 

I talk to my students about this a lot: about how the mental strain we put on ourselves moves into our physical body. And ultimately, there isn't anything that's worth you stressing yourself out to the point that your body begins to break down. And here I was, yet again, a living example of what a lack of self-care can do.

A few days ago I was doing a home practice through poweryoga.com taught by Bryan Kest. And he said something that was so perfect:

"If you grew up on an island in the middle of nowhere with no media, you wouldn’t know you were fat or ugly."

Just take a second with that one, will you. Here, I'll add it into the post again and make the font bigger and center it for effect:

"If you grew up on an island in the middle of nowhere with no media, you wouldn’t know you were fat or ugly."

He continued on to say that, because of this mystical land where media (mainstream and social) doesn't exist, when you would engage in physical activity, you'd be doing it because it FEELS GOOD. Not as a punishment. Not to look a certain way. You would simply be doing something for yourself because it makes YOU feel GOOD.

One of the studios I teach at just finished up a 30-Day challenge. It was so amazing seeing how many people really committed to coming in and doing something for themselves every day. I can't speak to the motive of all the challengers, but for many the habit they instilled of a daily practice of self-care stuck with them even when the challenge came to an end. So, I thought to myself about what Bryan said, about how 30-Day challenges are fun (did I mention I'm competitive?), and about that quote that I read this morning.

And I decided to start my own 30-Day challenge:

30 days of doing things that FEEL GOOD.  

 

Here’s my list:

  • 30 min of light cardio on the daily
  • 50 squats & 50 full sit-ups
  • Spend more time in my hammock
  • Daily journal writings
  • Cook from my new cookbook
  • Take time to read (I usually just do audio books)
  • Say nicer things to myself
  • Nap
  • Watch my hummingbirds more

My goal over the next 30 days, is to be of service...to myself. As you can see, some of those are things I will do everyday, and others I just want to consciously engage in more often over the next month. 

And not because I want to feel comfortable without a shirt on (I probably will never feel comfortable without a shirt on) or because I want my classes to keep selling-out. It's simply because when I'm nice to myself, everything else in life feels infinitely better. 

How can you be more gentle with yourself on a daily basis? Let me know. And let me know if you need some ideas or help on how to get started.

 

And above all else, please know this one undeniable unquestionable unwavering truth:

YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH

exactly as you are

YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH

 

xoxo!

 

Yoga & I

How did I get into yoga?

I don’t know how or why, but I do know when. And as you will see, if you have the patience to read this entire entry, it seems yoga has always been this way for me in my life: It has a history of coming up almost by divine intervention, if you believe in that, and it always changes EVERYTHING.

The beginning:

When I was 15, a yoga studio opened above my favorite childhood frozen yogurt shop (shout out to Penguin’s in West LA).  One day, for a reason I will never know, I decided to go into this yoga studio. Maybe it was because I was a teenage girl in LA that hated by body, maybe it was because I wondered if it could help my debilitating and chronic migraines...I don't know WHY I went, but I know why I kept going back.

There, I stumbled into a class lead by the owner of the studio: Mark Blanchard. I don't remember much, other than not knowing what I was doing or if I was doing it right. What I do remember is loving how I felt afterwards, and the first time I ever did Pigeon Pose. That pose was actually first taught to me by his wife, Elizabeth. If you're a student or a client of mine, you can thank his wife for introducing me to what has now become a staple of my classes and sessions. 

I remember finally feeling more in control of my debilitating anxiety, even noticing how I would feel walking out of class versus moments later when something would happen that would cause stress (I hadn't quite been able to take the techniques from the mat into my life...yet). I also started noticing that I was getting stronger physically, and looking a little better. Which at 15, is always the most important thing to a girl. Eventually I wasn’t able to keep up the practice at the studio, babysitting and working a minimum wage job only pays so much, but thankfully a friend of my mom knew about a place in Santa Monica that held yoga classes by donation!

So, in 2003 I took a drive down to Santa Monica and walked into Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga Studio on 2nd street. That’s where it all changed.  Because I could donate whatever I had, I was able to go regularly. And I did!

Back in the mid 2000’s, the instructor list at that studio was a true dream: Anaswara, Govindas, Rudy, Tamal Dodge, Vytas,  Ally Hamilton, and obviously Bryan Kest (the man who created Power Yoga nbd). I don’t think I could have had a more impressive and incredible group of instructors to study under than the roster at that studio during that time. 

As a student, I had heard about how yoga could bring up emotions, about how the body holds onto things. But I didn’t quite understand that until one night in a class taught by Travis Elliot

Quick little backstory: there was this one guy I dated in college who truly was…well, the worst. He wasn’t 19-year-old boy bad, he was straight up bad person bad. Who knows what bullshit he was doing at that moment in time, but whatever it was: it manifested in my body during that class and I finally understood what all my teachers had been saying over the last few years.  

As Travis guided us into a variation of Crescent pose, my jaw LOCKED. It felt like somebody had taken wires to my jaw and two clamps to either side of my face and just jammed it all closed. It was instant, and it was excruciating.  I don’t remember what Travis was saying, but I didn’t want to make a scene so I did my best to breathe and listen to everything he was saying so as to not focus on the pain. Eventually, once some tears started to emerge, my jaw started to unlock. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget what it felt like to have my body tell me my heart was hurting and I was in something that was bad for me.

I didn’t listen to my body for another year or two ( I was barely in my 20s...we've all been there), but I had HEARD it.

When college began, some things happened that really pushed me over the edge and I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I’m unsure if you know about or understand depression: but it’s a pretty complicated beast and yoga has helped me tame that beast and stay off of my medications for the last 12 years. Yoga has transformed me from the inside out.

As college drew to an end and I entered the work force, I kept practicing yoga. I had at one point contemplated taking a teacher training to learn more, but trainings are expensive, and I was literally working 4 different jobs in one day, 5 days a week. It just didn’t make sense. Especially because I was also pursuing an acting career: and pursuing acting ironically costs a lot of money.

One day my friend from college asked me if I’d like to backpack through South East Asia with her. I figured out a way to make it happen and had an incredible 5 weeks going through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Bali. My mind was taken back to yoga while I was abroad, and when I returned home, I grabbed my mat and headed back to the studio.  As I walked into class, a flyer caught my eye. The flyer had a photo of one the teachers there: Tamal Dodge. He was sitting in a white button-down shirt and jeans with his long wild hair and it said “200 HOUR YOGA CERTIFICATION” and below it read “Payment plans available.”

Me and the phrase “payment plans available” are best buds. I emailed Tamal and signed up for his teacher training right away!  

The Middle:

In February of 2009 I received my certification and hit the ground running holding donation yoga classes at my acting studio and at a dance studio by my house. Well…that didn’t last too long. Turns out that teaching donation yoga, like acting, costs money. My heart wasn’t in it enough and my depression was sneaking back up, so I stopped teaching classes.  I continued to co-teach the family yoga classes with my fellow YTT bud Dan Ward at the Electric Lodge in Venice, and worked with schools and summer camps bringing yoga to kids. But other than that, yoga wasn't really a big part of my life: as an instructor or sadly as a student. 

Over the next 4 years my practice would dwindle to near disintegration, and again I found myself in a bad relationship, working more than one job a day, living with constant migraines and, now, lower back pain.  This time I was 27 and a little concerned about what my future would look like if I stayed where I was.

A local yoga studio was doing a new student special: $45.00 for one month. So, I signed up! And guess what happened?

Did you guess? Did you?! Well I'm gonna write about it anyway...this is a blog after all. 

Physically: Migraines became less frequent, lower back pain went away, and people that came into my work started noticing a difference in my skin and my body.

But more importantly is what started to happen emotionally.

I have for most of my life been very good at seeing situations from the outside, even when I am IN them. I was aware that the jobs I had and my schedule were not sustainable for my health, and even more aware that I could not stay with the person I was with. I literally lived everyday of my life for well over 3 years walking on eggshells and somehow fucking up anyway. It was a disaster. She was a good person, just not the right person for me. And because we were also friends, it was just so hard to walk away. To imagine hurting her left me paralyzed in so many ways, and while from the outside I could see that it would be better for us both if I just left, from the inside I just wanted so desperately to help her. 

Yoga got me to snap the fuck out of all of that. EVERY class I would hear my heart cry "GET OUT!" The voice of my intuition would plead with me to quit my jobs and leave my partner. And I would hear it, just like I did back in college. And I would say "I hear you. I know. But I'm not ready yet." 

I was scared. Because change is scary. Quitting jobs is scary. Leaving a relationship and moving back home is scary. I wasn't sure I could handle any of it. But then...YOGA.

This may be a little hippy dippy for you: but I have found that the more I think about something, the more I want something to happen,  if I don't take the step, the universe takes it for me. But the universe doesn't just take a step, it shoves me off the cliff. Boiling points arose at my jobs which made it impossible to stay. One job in particular wasn't just a job for me, and the thought of walking away was literally giving me nightmares and breaking my heart into pieces.  Because yoga always makes me feel better, I took a walk up my block to a local yoga studio. The class was mediocre, but it wasn't the class that changed my life.  It was what I saw when I went to class:  next door there was a big sign on brown paper covering a window space: “HOT PILATES OPENING SOON." Ding ding ding! I could work the front desk! The other job I had quit was at a juice company, I loved the job: but I did not love the company's treatment of the employees nor the lies it told to it's patrons.  So this seemed like it would be perfect! I  could be around people that love wellness like I do, and get paid! So I went home and after some serious cyber digging I found an email and sent over a resume requesting to work the front desk.

Shannon Nadj wrote back right away, and we met one afternoon in an empty space filled with wood pillars that would soon become Los Angeles’ only (and most amazing) hot Pilates studio. She explained her vision, what the space would look like, and then out of nowhere asked me a question that would change the course of my life. “Would you like to teach here?”

As an improviser, the one rule you have to follow is to respond "YES." In fact, not just "Yes," but "Yes and..." So, that's what I did!

It’s all history from there. I started with two classes a week at Hot Pilates, eventually picked up four classes at Rise Movement. Over time I was teaching every day and more than once a day, and eventually started training clients privately.

Obviously: I also hit a breaking point in that relationship. One day I woke up, walked along the beach with my dog, and I realized in that moment I would NEVER feel that calm and happy if I stayed in my relationship one more day. So, that afternoon I ended it and moved my stuff out with the support of my best friend (and her baby). That night, for the first time in over 3 years, I slept through the night. 

I kid you not: the moment I took those leaps, everything changed and the world opened up for me and just started giving me all the things I never felt like I deserved.

I don't struggle paycheck to paycheck anymore (that's not to say sometimes it isn't tight: sometimes it is, as my income is completely reliant on my clients accountability and my students attendance in class) but I am actually able to save money and not be anxious constantly! I don't suffer from chronic migraines or debilitating back pain: being an instructor, and in my 30s,  comes with it's own little bag of injuries, but I'd rather have a small injury from using my body, than the pain and immobility I had from not.  And as for my relationship: I made a list of the dream qualities a boyfriend would have and what a fantasy relationship would look like. I had a few non-nogotiables, and then the list continued with qualities I understood would not all exist in one human being. Well, not even three months later I happened to meet a man that hits EVERY quality I put on that list, EVERY SINGLE ONE, and we have a relationship I just didn't really believe could exist. 

It wasn't a long process, the universe gave me a couple of kicks along the way when I wasn't brave enough to make the jump. And I know that had not been practicing yoga: I would have just pushed back and stayed still.

It is because of yoga I didn't fight the universe, but I followed it's lead. It's because of yoga I have learned about who I am and how to love myself, and how I deserve to be loved. It is because of yoga I am sitting here, in my favorite chair which was given to me by my friend that started as a client, in a home I have created with the man I am planning on spending the rest of my life with, after a morning spent privately training and publicly teaching people yoga. 

I get to spend every day studying and exploring what I love: yoga and it's benefits, and I get paid to share what I know with others. I have had clients go from not being able to bend down, to sending me selfies of them touching their toes or doing pigeon pose when they're out of town (Shout out to Lauren: the friend that gave me this chair I am sitting in, and now will request 8 minute Pigeon for our sessions. ILY).  I’ve had students come up to me in tears telling me how I’ve changed their lives from inspiring them to leave a job they don’t like or changing how they handle confrontation with family.  I don’t even know how I could possibly impact people the way Anaswara, Tamal, and the other teachers I studied under impacted me. But it seems I do, at least for some. And for that I am so grateful.

I love yoga because, as you can see, it has come into my life over and over again and made every aspect better. Psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Yoga has made my life better, and as I mentioned in my first post: all I want to do with my life is make this world, and the lives of people in it, better.

Yoga is my church, my therapy, and my exercise.  Yoga has literally saved my life over and over again, and while I respect everybody has their own jam when it comes to physical activity, I agree with my student and friend Candace that said it best:

“The world would be a better place if everybody did Pigeon.”

 

The End

Just of the entry…my journey I know is nowhere near over. 

Here's another photo of Dusty in Malibu...but this one is from THAT morning. The morning I listened to my heart.