In the face of persistently sneaky and complex trauma, our wiring somehow makes us shoulder the burden of it all. It's like the only thing that makes sense is that we somehow did it wrong, and the only way out is to make it go away. But often that means making parts of ourselves go away too.Read More
You don't progress through life linearly. You spiral forward, revisiting familiar lessons and scenarios, just internally changed a bit each time. You might revisit a familiar lesson more guarded, more despaired, and more contracted than the last encounter. Or you revisit the familiar scenario slightly wiser, somehow stronger, and definitely quicker to call the shots.
I think about healing as a lifestyle choice. Bringing an inexaustible growth mindset to all things. Which, by the way, is work. Constant, rewarding, energetically vigorous work.
So what are the practices that fuel your growth? What sustains your healing stamina? What self-inquiry helps you extract wisdom from each f*ck-up?
Browse my monthly offerings to find lots of mindful yoga to support self-study and embodied personal growth work. It doesn't have to be fancy. Just the act of slowing down, calming your fight/flight/freeze response, and getting quiet enough to hear your own wisdom will take you far in fueling your growth mindset.
From my nervous system to yours,
What's the most powerful moment in your yoga practice?
Hint: it's not headstand. It's not savasana. It's not the moment you touch your toes.
The most powerful moment in your yoga practice happens *off* the mat. That moment you catch yourself holding your breath, and you decide to breathe deeper. That moment you catch yourself getting furious, and you decide to witness the emotion instead of pouring gasoline on it and striking a match. That moment you catch yourself actively isolating into a cocoon of depression, and you decide to reach out for connection. That moment you catch yourself running with assumptions, and you decide to ask a truth-seeking question.
That is yoga in action. Those are the moments that change your life. One tiny shift at a time. And all the yoga *on* the mat is just practice, strengthening the parts of your brain that can WITNESS, CHOOSE and ACT creatively in key moments of your life.
So, let's practice. At a glance, here's what's happening:
We are designed to survive. Thanks, autonomic nervous system! But sometimes, a wire trips. We get stuck in the *on* position. We can't power down. The only-use-in-emergency functions designed to keep us safe become infused with our identity -- hypervigilance, worst-case-scenario-ing, energy conservation, emotional suppression, digestive mayhem, protection stance, etc. And these functions integrate so well into our culture that we don't even realize we've normalized the abnormal.
Mindful yoga (and sometimes even mindless yoga) is one way that we humans practice powering down. Deep breathing, body engagement and present-moment-focus (within trauma-responsive, safe space) help flip the switch into *off* mode. With guidance and practice over time, that trigger switch becomes less sensitive. And flips itself back into neutral more easily.
Let's revisit that parenthetical again: trauma-responsive, safe space. Maybe that deserves more than being in parentheses. Because just as yoga spaces can heal, yoga spaces can also re-traumatize, re-trigger and re-inforce all the crap we're trying to heal. So, be discerning when you surrender your body, heart and nervous system to the words and hands of a teacher. Remember that NO is a complete sentence. Practice it in the mirror. And teachers, remember the responsibility that comes with any position of power.
Here are some ways to practice all of it. <3 Alex
Let's not romanticize it -- sitting with our feelings can feel like sitting in a septic tank without ventilation.
A client once asked me, "Why should I feel my feelings if they just make me feel worse?" Oh. Why are we yoga and mindfulness teachers such fans of "sitting with" discomfort, pain, grief and fear?
I suppose it all depends on whether you subscribe to the belief that the only way out is through. That you must go in to the sensation to transcend it. That you can't shut off the valve to discomfort, pain, grief and fear without also compromising the flow of joy, elation, love and connection.
It's so annoying, I know. Especially since feeling a feeling isn't just emotional -- it's freakin' physical. It snarls our throat, restricts our breath, creates a headache, tunnels our vision, sends our heart rate through the ringer.
Yoga and mindfulness practices can help us feel our feelings with (and on) purpose. With quiet space, with breath, with body engagement, with community connection. With a teacher to guide you to the other side.
Right there in the practice with you,
Now is not the time to unconsciously follow the herd.
Listening for inner guidance, truth and wisdom is a skill that can be honed. Often, it needs to be relearned and reclaimed. It can be practiced by befriending your body and becoming reaquainted with intuition. Self-trust might seem like a hard-earned prize, but it's actually a practice that involves incremental baby steps towards liberation.
That's the kind of yoga I love to teach.
Yet go to any yoga studio, and you'll find lots of teachers convincing you that yoga is one particular thing -- often with the implicit or explicit requirement of "do what I tell you to do or else you're failing yoga". The good news is, you get to decide for yourself. You get to find your own internal practice amidst the abundance of external input. And then the yoga teacher becomes just one source of wisdom among the many within.
Let's empower each other whenever we can. The world needs you conscious, awake and empowered. And feeling loved.
Stress is like the baking powder in the recipe of life. Add just the right amount, and we rise. Without that leavening agent, our existence would be too flat. But you may be stuck in a lifestyle that's more like a baking soda science fair volcano -- erupting on the daily.
Let's get you some help with that.
Yoga and mindfulness help you re-calibrate the ingredients you're baking into your day-to-day life. Add a pinch more breath. Decrease the amount of over-committing. Substitute for allergies. Stuff like that. Incremental adjustments can create a whole new flavor of living.
Below you'll find lots of ways to re-calibrate. See you on the mat. May you thrive,
Life gets messy for all of us. I urge you to not let anyone's outfit, Facebook profile, public persona or small talk convince you otherwise.
Life is a mess of loss and love and disappointment and surprise and blessing and dumbfounding inexplicability.
You might have gotten really good at cleaning up the mess. Compartmentalizing the chaos of what it means to be human. Sometimes controlling the mess is the only way we know not to drown in it.
But what if we all showed up a little messier in the world? What if your messiness allowed someone else to accept their own mess? What if we normalized the ups and downs, the crashes and burns, the ebb and flow, the concurrent paradox of joy and grief?
My classes and workshops are designed to let you show up exactly as you are -- strong, exhausted, hopeful, despairing, elated, heart broken, numb, all of it. This kind of yoga helps you hold space for the mess, to trust it, to let it show you the next step forward.
May you thrive,
How's your follow-through?
A rare-for-me sports analogy: I had tennis lessons when I was a kid (many life chapters ago in Germany). One lesson stuck with me -- when you're playing tennis, your follow-through on the swing is as important as making contact with the ball. And my little, insecure, unembodied kid self struggled with follow-through after impact. My body's reaction was to stop short of full swing.
Somewhere along the way, we get good at absorbing the impact of things that come flying at us. [I'm not talking about tennis balls anymore.]
We learn to stifle intense experiences when they become too much -- too much for us or the authority figures trying to deal with us. We swallow our anger, passion, disappointment, heartache, despair, joy. We teach ourselves to stop short of feeling in full swing. Our bodies become shock absorbers.
Until, of course, we change. When we start to heal and feel more fully. Following through on experience to its full expression. Externalizing instead of internalizing the momentum of living.
Here's where mindful, therapeutic yoga comes in -- a chance to stop stuffing your inconvenient parts away. A chance to breathe. To feel what you actually feel in your body, heart and essence. And then to follow through on your truth.
I'm here to help with that.
In addition to my monthly restorative workshops (7/22 at JP Centre Yoga and 7/28 at Akasha Studio), I'm teaching additional drop-in Flow & Restore classes the next two Sundays at 6pm at JP Centre Yoga.
May you thrive,
PS: This was my newsletter this month! To get stuff like this in your inbox with more detailed workshop/training/class info, send me a PM.
Photo credit: Harold Edgerton, Tennis Swing, 1949, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
How well do you know your nervous system?
Chances are, your nervous system overheats on a regular basis. Whether your stress comes from work, relationships, politics, your health, or your own traumatic history, your nervous system gets triggered to respond to threat in one of 3 ways : fight, flight or freeze.
That moment you feel your hackles going up? That's FIGHT mode.
That moment you want to just get the hell out? That's FLIGHT mode.
That moment when you draw a complete blank and lose your words? That's FREEZE.
Here's the thing : your ability to fight, get out, or play dead can be a life saver when the threat is real.
But when the threat is a critical email, a thoughtless comment, a setback, a life change, or any other "normal" vulnerability of living, your nervous system may still interpret this as life threatening and trigger you. And engaging with the world from a triggered mindset is damn stressful because it heightens the stakes of every. little. thing.
So what to do? Answer : Teach your inner old dog new tricks.
Yoga, meditation and mindfulness helps you re-educate your nervous system. To help it realize you're safer than it thinks. To be able to over-ride the trigger response and cool down more quickly when you overheat.
I'll be offering a nervous system cool-down this Saturday 5/20 from 2-4pm at JP Centre Yoga : Radically Restorative Yoga. This workshop is an embodied exercise in getting grounded and accessing your inner surfer dude. The gentle yoga postures become ultra relaxing with the addition of hands-on support, offered by 4 different bodyworkers. It teaches your nervous system to be in the present, receive support and to embody self-compassion.
Then of course there's yoga therapy if you're seeking 1-on-1 support, and professional yoga therapy training with me in Vermont in June/July if you want to soothe nervous systems for a living. See below.
But even if we won't be practicing together, I hope you'll get to know your nervous system better. Start to recognize your FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE symptoms. Figure out what helps you cool off when you overheat. Practice NOT engaging with the world from your triggered state. Read Buddha's Brain. Be the change you wish to see in the world by overriding your inner dragon trigger monster and radiating physical, mental and emotional safety into the world. We need it.
I'm practicing right alongside you.
May you thrive,
Watch this Facebook Live interview to learn what Yoga Therapy sessions are all about.
Noelle Janka Coaching and Yoga and I talked about what yoga therapy is and what it's not, how most of us have endured "sneaky trauma", how our minds are just doing the best they can, and why you shouldn't leave your body at the door when you go to therapy.
Sometimes, awareness sucks.
Awareness means feeling ugly things. Like injustice. Fear. Pain. [All kinds of pain.]
But turning off awareness also shuts off the valve to beautiful things. Like connection. Motivation. Inspiration. [All kinds of inspiration.]
The conscious life is a delicate dance between "not too much and not too little". Moderating awareness so that we can feel deeply and still function freely. Showing up where it's needed. Resisting where it's needed. Changing our small pockets of the world where it's needed.
Yoga and mindfulness is a way to practice awareness, digest difficult truths, and fuel your soul to keep you persevering. Because the world needs you persevering.
Let's help each other persevere where we can, consciously resist where it's needed, and thrive together.
Where do you go when the pain rolls in?
Whether the pain is your own, ancestral, communal or global, where do you go?
Do you go away? Scroll faster? Click "next"? Reach for a treat? Slip under the covers of numbness? Do you freeze into paralysis? Do you lash out? Do you don horse shudders and turn towards the sun?
Now, can you forgive yourself for all the ways you avoid pain? Can you appreciate the instinctual force with which your body & mind turns away from the ache? Can you smile at the part of yourself that cries, "But I don't wanna!!" and fold it into your strong embrace?
And then the work can begin.
When you start the process of changing, you can only see a few steps ahead. You can only see the first few obstacles and the first few opportunities. But then you keep going. You change more. And just like the horizon that advances as you travel forward, you'll encounter obstacles and opportunities that you couldn't see before. And you deal with them, one courageous feat of strength at a time.
At a time when the obvious need to change the world can be paralyzing in its enormity, start with yourself. And so much more will be revealed as you go.
May you thrive,
Do you ever wish you could press pause, zoom out for a birds-eye-view of your life, and give a tune-up to the parts of you that are ailing? Most of us seem to think we have to "go away" and "retreat" from real life to do that.
But practicing in the midst of real life and all its sh*t-storms can be the strongest practice of all. You don't have to run away to Bali, hike into the mountains, or take up with a monk. Perspective, mindfulness and clarity can happen right in the midst of your day-to-day life.
Over the course of 4 weekly Monday night sessions in June, you'll get to press pause, slow down the merry-go-round, bring new perspective to your stressors and apply mindfulness tools right here, right now. The workshop is called "Urban Awakening" and it provides structure, accountability and community for a month of self-exploration. All while saving money on airfare. Details below. Will you join us?
No matter how hard we run, sometimes it's like all roads lead back to our inner unfinished business.
So if the only way out is through, we better gear up on resources. Reach out, grab the hand of a fellow traveler. Make friends with your breath, your oxygen tank. Learn to communicate with your body. Get so freakin' good at self-care. Learn to cradle your frantic mind as you would a scared child. Organize a small army of cheerleaders. Feed your heart with all the good things. Slow the f*ck down. Become a warrior of patience.
All these things, we practice in yoga. There are many ways to practice together in February -- restorative workshops, partner yoga, yoga with live music and more. More info is below. But no matter where you are, I hope you're being so freaking tender with yourself.
May you thrive. ~Alex
How is your body responding to the "holidays"?
The night before Thanksgiving at my mom's house, I realized my body was in a subtle-but-powerful trauma trigger -- irritable, lashing out, throat and chest tightening, mind spinning, fury. This had a tiny bit to do with watching the Scientology Documentary on TV, and a whole lot to do with my body's and nervous system's imprint of what holidays "mean". Because my body and my nervous system long ago formed powerful assumptions about the holidays, thanks to the yuletide emotional bootcamp circa 1993-1995.
Back then, the massive inflow of emotional, energetic, analytical and physical data ran through the matrix of my pre-teen brain and amounted to this: Holidays = scary, fighting, disappointment, heartache, disconnection, not belonging, being left out, sad, fury, alienation, pain. And somehow, my body and nervous system were still holding those assumptions, even though life is so much sweeter now.
Trauma triggers are useful. They can show us where our unfinished business lies. But what do we do with our triggered selves? Here are some strategies that help me, and they might help you too:
1) Acknowledge with compassion. Consider that your inner bitch is actually an ancient inner trauma response. Your emotions and intuition are valid, even if they're sometimes misplaced. There's a reason you're upset. Honor it.
2) Create some comfort and safety. Soothing your body and your nervous system takes you out of trigger mode and gives you some space and perspective. Try: deep breathing, having a good cry, having a damn cookie, leaving the room, seeking out an ally, etc.
3) Explore the threat. What is actually taunting my nervous system? What's happening now that's bringing up a fight/flight/freeze response? What's the unfinished business or the unhealed wound?
4) Consider choices & respond consciously. Is this something I need to make peace with independently, or are there conversations to be had, questions to be asked, skeletons to be pulled out of the closet, truths to be confronted?
That night before Thanksgiving, I was very fortunate. I had an amazing conversation with my mother that helped me calm my nervous system, because I was able to shed pent-up tears and be deeply heard by her. She held space for me as I identified the unfinished business from my past, which the holidays were kicking up for me. And she's been my ally these last few weeks as I've pulled some family skeletons out of the closet and had difficult but freedom-inducing conversations. And I've finally made my peace with December.
To all you emotional freedom-fighters out there, I wish you the happiness that's a by-product of truthful expression and scary-courage. I wish you the satisfaction that comes from trusting, honoring and positively utilizing your gut response, your body's reactions, your nervous system triggers. Cheers to you. I know that's what you're practicing for when you get on the yoga mat.
Below you'll read about several workshops to help us honor this season, and all that it stirs, together. For some extra support, Yoga Therapy Gift Certificates are now on sale.
Happy freakin' holidays. May you thrive.
Dear one: We all need a gentle kick in the soul every now and again to spark the fire of change. Personal growth isn't change for change's sake -- it's a deliberate, empowered way of updating our inner workings so that we can re-align our outer circumstances. It's how we build, raze, re-build and nourish the life we want. It's how we build, raze, re-build and nourish our inner capacity for awesomeness.
Join me for some yoga-inspired personal growth awesomeness over the next few weeks in Boston, including Body Wisdom starting Oct. 31. No tricks, just treats for your body, heart and soul.
Stop for a moment.
Take 3 big breaths.
And ask yourself, "Which assumptions are driving me, right now?"
Like it or not, your brain is brilliantly designed to work something like this: Take in new information. Transform information into assumptions. Go off into the world reacting accordingly. Resume taking in new information. Use information to confirm existing assumptions. React to the world accordingly. Repeat.
The assumptions that drive the biggest roots into our Selves are those assumptions formed when we are at our most neurologically vulnerable: when we're young and/or when we're experiencing traumatic stress. In these vulnerable times, the assumptions we form are crude, over-simplified, and biased towards a negative interpretation of -- well, everything. Then, these deeply rooted assumptions become our rules of engagement for life.
Our brain is wired like this because it helps us survive. But it doesn't always help us thrive.
To thrive we must somehow transcend the rule of assumptions that were birthed in our darkest, scariest times. We must replace the negativity bias with loving compassion for ourselves and others. We must be able to see the glass half-full. And to do all of that, we must update our neurological hard drive and delete some very old assumptions.
This is really why many of us practice mindfulness-based yoga. The physical, mental and emotional practices of yoga are re-training you to figure out what's really, actually true, right now. Through your body, nervous system, and prefrontal cortex, you discover the possibility of new assumptions that are rooted in compassion, patience, trust and abundance.
This is what inspires my yoga classes, yoga therapy sessions, twice-monthly Radically Restorative Yoga with bodywork (next one this Saturday at JP Centre Yoga), and therapeutic yoga workshops like Body Wisdom (coming up in just a few weeks at Akasha Roslindale).
It's hard work updating your internal operating system. But that's the work that will give you freedom from the assumptions that no longer serve you.
And I'm right there with you my friend. May you thrive.
PS: Send me a note, let me know what this sparks for you. xo
For many of us this time of year, there's an energetic swing towards the hectic, overly scheduled hustle. This time around, what if you...
... refused to get on the hamster wheel?
... scheduled breathing breaks?
... committed yourself to periodic self-care?
You are an incredibly resourceful, beautiful force of productivity in the world. But you can't refuel your gas tank without pulling off the road every once in a while.
It's not always easy to take a time out -- it takes commitment, healthy boundaries and interpersonal support. But it is possible to engineer some peace into your life. And those moments of peace will amplify your energy so that you can show up fully for everything else.
With Intra Yoga Therapy, you'll find lots of opportunities for mind-body-tune-ups this fall, starting with Radically Restorative Yoga at Akasha Roslindale in Boston THIS SUNDAY 9/13 from 4-6pm!
May you thrive. ~Alex
Many of my yoga therapy clients are dealing with chronic pain/discomfort. This is an awesome story about changing one's relationship to that pain/discomfort. There are no quick fixes, no easy diagnoses for so much of our body stuff. But so often we miss a crucial part of the process -- asking to understand what our body wants from us. And examining our belief system around our body. And then adjusting accordingly. Please enjoy author Elizabeth Gilbert's amazing story of mind-body connection. #bodywisdom
"PERHAPS I AM STRONGER THAN I THINK" — Thomas Merton
Dear Friends -
I've spent the last eleven days hiking in the Italian Alps.
And that is a sentence that — 15 years ago — I would never have imagined myself ever writing.
I used to have a bad knee. It started during my divorce, when every part of me was falling apart — head to toe, inside and out. But my left knee was the worst of it. I twisted it one day, and it was never the same again. I couldn't even walk up a flight of stairs without pain. At the time I went to see a doctor about it, who said simply, "Well, that's why they call it getting older, and not getting younger." (Thanks, doc.)
For years, I babied my knee. I identified myself as someone whose knees were "bad", the way certain dogs and neighborhoods are called "bad". If I took a yoga class, and the teacher asked if anyone had any physical limitations, I dutifully raised my hand and explained that I had a bad knee. I was given special movements, and told to be extra careful. Every new doctor was told about my bad knee. My friends knew about my bad knee. I iced it and heated it and put braces on it and took tons of ibuprofen and kept my range of motion limited because of it. I visited all kinds of professionals — traditional and alternative, alike.
But my knee never stopped hurting.
Untill 5 years ago.
Now listen — before I go on here, please don't do anything stupid to your body because of what I'm about to say, OK? I'm not a medical professional, and you must be a wise steward of your own lovely physical being.
But here is what happened to me.
One day — and it did happen suddenly, one day — about five years ago, I asked my knee what it wanted from me.
I literally spoke to it. I got very quiet, and very sleepy, and I said, "Tell me what you need from me, dear knee. I'm listening. I''ll do whatever you say. Surgery? A replacement? More gentle care? More acupunture? A change of diet? Reiki? Just give me the word."
Then I got very quiet, and my knee told me what it wanted. I heard the answer in the depths of my mind, as clear as day. It said, "GO FASTER."
Go faster, said my knee. Go running. Go climbing. Go dancing. Use me. Jump up and down on me. I am a KNEE. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am wonderously designed, said my knee. I am not a weak point, but a strong one. I am part of your body, and I want to be used. I am not a symbol of your divorce. I am not a sign of aging. I am not a problem. Don't baby me. I don't want to spend the rest of my life being treated like a Victorian invalid lady who has to take to her bed because of her fainting spells. I am not weak. Stop this. Please, please, please — said my "bad" knee to me — please stop using me as an expression of your weakness, fear, and emotional fragility. Please talk to your therapist about whatever troubles are ongoing in your mind, but don't blame for everything. Please just trust me. Please just use me as I was designed. Use me as a freaking KNEE.
The next day — hand to God — I went running for three miles and I was fine. I've been fine ever since.
Again — PLEASE don't go and do anything physically stupid to yourselves because of this story. I can barely explain it myself — how suddenly my "bad" knee was no longer bad. I have never been able to speak to a body part so clearly again, and I know it seems crazy that it happened at all.
But it happened.
There was pain (remember — that was my "divorce knee") and then I was finally ready to put the pain away, and to stop using my knee as a pain-memorial.
All I know is this — that pain is a complicated and multi-layered force. Nobody experiences pain the same way, which is why it's so difficult to treat. Some of our pain abides in the body, and some of it abides in the mind, and some of it abides in our histories. As pain moves through us, it passes through what scientists call "amplification centers" in our beings. Our emotions are amplification centers. our fear is an amplifaction center. Our imaginations are amplification centers. Our anger, too. All of these parts of ourselves amplify the pain in our mind, and sometimes commit to that pain fully — forever.
I had a friend once who injured her back during a hard time in her life, and it didn't recover for years. One day, a doctor finally asked her, "What was the first thing you thought, when you felt your back go out?"
My friend said, "I thought, 'This is going to hurt me for the rest of my life''.
The doctor, very kindly, said, "Maybe it's time for you to stop thinking that."
Her healing began there.
I believe that I did hurt my knee 15 years ago — but mildly, temporarily, and not in a way that it needed to cause me pain for a decade. I believe that my "bad" knee lived on inside my mind, not in my knee itself. When pain abides in the mind, it does not mean you are crazy, or that the pain is any less "real". Trust me, my knee HURT. It just means that pain is living on within your body because — for some reason — it must. Because you are not done suffering. Because I was in heart-pain for ten years, and that pain needed a location. My poor knee took the pain for me. Until it didn't want to any more.
Anyhow — what if you are stronger than you think?
I am all for people treating themselves with gentle loving care (and maybe part of my recovery from emotional pain was all about focusing on treating my knee like a poor, suffering baby — so that I could take care of myself with kindness at some level. Maybe that helped me to heal my heart.) But what if there are parts of your body that don't want to be babied foever?
What if every single part of us longs to be USED?
What if our bodies long to be freed from the past, so that they can move as they were designed to move?
What if our hearts long to love?
What if our minds long to be creative?
What if our spirits just want everything to be forgiven?
What if your knee wants you to climb a mountain, to show you how powerful you actually are?
Wouldn't that be crazy?
Wouldn't that be freaking wild?
Wouldn't that fill you with so much joy, you feel that your heart may burst from it?
(as shared on her Facebook page 8/14/15)