One Little Step

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One Little Step

I know I’m one of the more militant teachers at SHINE. I’m actually proud of how much I push my students. For an hour or so, once a week, we find ourselves in a very intense relationship. We both have expectations of each other. I tell them what I want them to do and I expect them to try their best to do it. When they feel struggle, I am expected to guide them through the fire. Sometimes it’s a mental or physical cue, sometimes touch. Sometimes it’s knowing when to shut my pie hole and give them space. Over the years I’ve become better at seeing which is needed.

In the end we each have a goal and like any relationship, they are not always the same. I ask for what I want, my students ask for what they want (usually mercy). There are dirty looks, stern words spoken, extreme emotions, fear, judgment and sometimes tears. Though this I stay true to what I want, but I also know it’s a push and pull of reading each other. The goal needs to a bit soft, moldable. In the end we need to both feel accomplished, like we were challenged, as well as heard.  I have spent years developing the skills of this relationship. Staying true and asking for what I want with love, but a firm hand and knowing when it’s time to reshape a bit.

When it came to my attention the other day that I DO NOT apply this to my personal relationships, I was flattened.

My therapist looked me in the eye. Her lovely curls (which I am suuuper jealous of) fell down her shoulders and her brown eyes fixed on mine, “You lose yourself, Sarah. You don’t say what you need or want.”

As if my body wanted to drive home the point, in case I missed it, I felt my throat start to swell shut.

The next day I’m at SHINE. I teach boot camp on Wednesday nights, so I take Stacy’s Power 75 before my class.  Let me say, Stacy was on Goddamn point. She challenged, my body accepted. When I needed to back off, she accepted. I felt safe and wobbly, mark of an amazing class.

Back bending came. What flexibility I have in my back, I’ve worked hard for and it isn’t much.  But I do the work, up, down, up, down, up down. It’s the pose after backbending, Supta Baddha Konasana, Reclining Bound Angle. Feet together, knees wide. Hand on you heart, hand on your belly, reconnect your breath and your heart beat. This is where I struggle.

It’s here, in my class, I tell my students to actively control their breath. Make each inhale and exhale a beat longer. Feel your heart slow down as your breath slows down. You have the control. Not only do I believe they do, I know they do. I watch it happen time and time again.

Even though I know, I KNOW, this works, I fear that I do not have this control. Since I started practicing, until recently, I would not even attempt to touch my heart in this pose. It was too much to actively feel my heart in such a firy state. I ignore the rapid beats and put my arms overhead.

I’ve been making attempts at this pose. Honestly, I can only make it a beat or two before I’m overwhelmed and I default, arms over head. Gina once came over and Made me do it, which I love her for, but never on my own free will.

This class, I come down after my last backend. I hear Stacy’s sweet voice call Supta Baddha Konasana. I close my eyes and default. Before my hands even touch the wood floor I hear a friend in my head, “No matter how small, take a step toward your goal.”  

The first step to saying what I feel, is feeling what I feel.

I feel my throat start to close.

Then I feel myself make a choice.

My right hand goes to my belly. My left hand places onto my chest. I feel my heart. I feel the irregular beat, I feel panic rise in my chest. I come back to breath, slow, ujjayi. The panic doesn’t stop.

In my therapist's’ office the day before I told her how this relationship thing was something that has come up for me before, many times in fact.  “I can’t believe I’m still dealing with this shit!”

“Sarah,” she sighed, “it’s ALWAYS going to be there. What you need to do is recognize it and deal with it.”

Now here I am, in class, dealing with the same shit I’ve been dealing with since I started practicing. I decided to take a small step. I stayed. For the very first time, I kept my hand on my heart and felt it hit my chest until Stacy called the next asana.

“Happy Baby”

Oh sweet Jesus, thank you… so uncomfortable.

It took me seven, SEVEN years to be able to hold my hand on my beating heart for 30 seconds. I giggle my way through the next few asanas. Partially because, how fucking ridiculous? And partly because I couldn’t contain my joy.  

One awkward, wonderful, small step toward my goal.

I take a deep breath in, my throat feels fine.

 

 

 

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Tulum and the Lightness of Being

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Tulum and the Lightness of Being

The Shine Yoga Retreat was a beginning for me. Very concretely, it was the beginning of a
year-long leave from my job. I knew that I wanted to do some serious soul-searching on this
leave, but I had no idea my epiphany would start so early in the year, and with a bunch of
people I barely knew.


I come from immigrant stock. My parents grew up during the depression. They expected
their children to do better – much better – than they did. My parents made incredible
sacrifices to educate my siblings and me. I’ll always be grateful for that, but there’s a down
side to all those sacrifices.


As long as I can remember, I’ve been running – yes, that kind of running, the literal kind but
not only that. Academically and professionally, running: College. Law school. Law practice.
Law teaching. Tenure. Articles written, then books. Personal life, running: more and more
miles logged, til I have more repetitive stress injuries than I can count – shoulder, wrist, foot,
knee. Even on vacation – it’s nothing to hike 20 miles a day or cycle 25 miles, SUP, kayak,
and yes, run. Up and down mountains. In the cold. No matter. Just go. A couple of years ago,
I contracted mono – and worked through it, teaching my evening classes and driving home
from Philadelphia with the windows down and the radio blaring so I wouldn’t fall asleep at
the wheel. I said to my husband, I want to stop. I do all this stuff but I’m not happy. But I
didn’t stop. Some lessons are too ingrained.


One therapist called this part of my personality Running Girl. What are you running from,
Running Girl, she asked me. I don’t know I said. YOU DO!,  she said.
And then I was granted the leave. And Running Girl set in motion! Goals! All kinds of things
to do! I had a whole list of things I wanted to accomplish – before my leave even started, I
wondered if I would have time to do everything I had on my list! I even took this approach to
the yoga retreat. This is great! I’ll do side crow! Bird of paradise! Run, run, RUN!
And then I arrived in Tulum. Full. Stop.


That first yoga class, hearing the ocean, feeling the salty breeze. Beautiful, good souls
beaming their positive supportive energy all around me. We did yoga. We ate. We talked. We
got naked and swam. We laughed. We covered ourselves in mud and walked into the sea. We
napped in the sun. We -- all of us women who work so hard, who prop up all of those around
us every day, who run all the time – we played. I was so happy, truly filled with joy and good
feeling. It was so different from how I feel every day. Where was all that irritation, anger,
frustration, impatience? Where was Running Girl?


Well, she was there – it wasn’t that easy. But it was a beginning. Just a little glimmer of
something: It is ok to do nothing. It is ok to rest. It is ok to play. You can just be. You don’t
have to do.


In what I cannot believe was a coincidence, I returned from Tulum forced to just be. In the
airport on the way home, I got news that I had to have surgery on my leg. Immediately. I
would be laid up for 2 weeks – no running, no yoga, no stress on body or mind. Just rest.
Running Girl panicked. I was going to jump out of my skin! I’ll be so bored! What will I do?
(It is typical of Running Girl that she was worried about being bored and laying around for
two weeks instead of worried about the reason the surgery was necessary. Like I said, not
that easy.).

So now I am recuperating. And I have gotten a little bored. Ok, more than a little. Running
Girl took over on the second day and I did too much walking and it hurt. I didn’t bust my
stitches but I could have. So now, I’m in my chair. I’m reading. I’m meditating. I did some
very mellow hatha yoga. I’m writing this blog. I’m remembering the lessons of Tulum. It is ok
to do nothing. It is ok to rest. Ok to just be. I say this over and over.


I’m not done with this work by a long shot, but I have started, and that is something. And it
began in Tulum, with yoga and my yogi friends. 

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Musings from being OPEN to whats NEW!

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Musings from being OPEN to whats NEW!

When I first saw the poster for the retreat at the studio, I thought, “Wow, that would be amazing,” almost in awe – like it would be something I would never do, but how cool that other people get to do that.  “Why not me?” I asked myself.  I won’t bore you with all the reasons I came up with (trust me – there were many).  After I sat in all that yuck (aka excuses), I realized it was yuck I created and thus only I could get me out!  Armed with realization, I decided to ask my husband if he would come with me on the retreat – we had been talking about going away just the two of us and while every thought in my head was telling me this was not the vacation he had in mind, I simply asked.  Imagine my SHOCK when he said YES!  Yes, from the man that has never done yoga in his life.  He said yes for the same reason I did – it was something we NEVER thought either of is would do and we were up to new experiences.

New experiences – there were many on this trip: first time to Tulum, swimming in a natural open Cenote, swimming in a lagoon in the Biosphere, swimming au natural in the ocean (lots of swimming!), mayan mud treatment on the beach (topless!), Maitri (self love) meditation, Buti Yoga, Budokan Yoga (AMAZING!!!!!), writing a 1 year vision statement I believed in, connection to relative strangers, meditation on the beach, horizon as my Drishti, and the list goes on and on…….

These new experiences left me asking, was I seeing & doing new things simply because I was in a new place? Is it because I was open to them after making the decision to be a yes to this retreat?

I arrive back home & I’ve played around with this idea a lot.   I live in the same place, same work, same friends, same family – what new experiences are right here, in my “same” world of New Jersey?  Turns out, they’re flippin’ everywhere!!!  

Here are just some of the new experiences I’ve had in my same ‘ol place: meditating on my front porch as people walked by; going to a writing workshop with strangers on a whim and opening up about some darkness inside I didn’t even know needed to be let out;  making a knotted mala necklace;  saying mantras to my daughters; expressing myself to my husband in a whole new way; facing a struggle at work with positivity and ease instead of angst and excessive effort; signing up to row on a Dragon Boat, and this list too goes on and on……..

This trip was so much more than a vacation, it was HEATHER open to experience new experiences – can’t wait to see what comes next!!!!

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I Got Stood Up

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I Got Stood Up

“Would you like another one?”

I look up and into the eyes of a pretty brown haired waitress. I’ve watched her over the past 40 minutes dancing through the tables of The Farm & Fisherman. She’s been equally lovely and accommodating to every table. She’s kept a watchful eye but this is the first time she’s stopped back at my table in the time I’ve been there. But, for good reason. The seat across from me is still tucked under the table and the menu laying on the place setting.

Actual Stood Up Meal

I order another drink and the goat tacos (get them next you're there, they’re bangin’). I grab my phone to text my sister, “It’s official, I’ve been stood up.”

I was never a big dater in high school or college, always a serial monogamist. Now in my late 30’s I’m, really for the first time, finding out what it’s like to date. I’ve had some great dates. Dates that were intoxicating, men who surprised me with how much we had in common and how easily the conversation flowed. I’ve had some bad dates, right down to the “Oh God, please let him finish his food quickly so I can go”. But I had yet to be stood up.

On our second date, that HE asked for. Not that I’m bitter….or writing a blog about it.

As I shoveled goat meat and pita into my face hole I tried to pinpoint the feeling that was coming up. Sad, yes. My feelings were hurt.  However, even though we had fun on our first date, I already knew that he and I weren’t a great match, so in the end, no hard feelings there.

Angry - maybe? And because everything comes back to fucking yoga, I scanned my body for my triggers. Nope, not there. Ok, it’s not anger….what is it then……?  

I let my body tiggers go and concentrated on the repeating thoughts in my head and like that, I had it. Pure, God Damn Annoyance. And there were 3, THREE, things that I was annoyed about:

 

#1 - I Washed My Hair.

 

Not a big deal to men, but try having a couple feet of it. Only two hours before, I got out of the shower, stood in front of my mirror, towel wrapped around my head and looked myself in the eye.   Every women with long hair knows this moment, it’s like preparing for war.

I knew I had a battle on my hands, the yoga classes I had participated in earlier had left landmines in my hair that were going to take special artillery to get though. I looked down at the three brushes and J&J Baby detangler lined up on my counter. They had gotten me though before, I hadn’t lost faith in their abilities now.  I look back up and give myself the nod.

With a flourish I take the towel off my head and instead of my amber and chocolate tresses cascading down my back like a Pantene commercial, they basically stay in the shape of the towel in one giant knot on the top of my head. I grab the first brush, a chunk of hair and like the first charge in a Game of Thrones campaign I go in with a gusto and lust for Glory!!  

After some time has passed my arms are limp and exhausted. I gaze through strands of hair into the mirror. I see a creature resembling Cousin It staring back at me. I’ve won this battle.

If combing is the battle, blow drying is like walking though the field and picking off the last of the opposing survivors. I think I got all the knots out as twirl my hair around the round brush. When suddenly, my hair has become ensnared! The boar bristles are trying to become one with my hair! There’s a small conflict as I basically RIIIIIP the round brush out of my hair. Some of my men have defected to the other side. I look down at the brush and see the offending knot and a few stray hairs clinging to their new leader. I sigh, such is war…

 

#2 - I Got Dressed Up

 

Both my places of employment are pretty casual. Jeans, yoga cloths, ponytails and buns pretty much sums up my daily aesthetic. To get dressed up is fun and unusual for me.  There are many things to consider as one dresses for a date. Examples:

Comfort vs Looking Good: I know there is a standard that women suck it up for fashion and sometimes I do. However I don’t want to be so concerned with choosing the hospital for my emergency pinky toe removal that I can’t hold a conversation.

Cute vs Sexy: There’s a strength in both, but I gotta choose. Women who can pull off both at the same time amaze me. I’ll watch them with the same awe and wonder as if a Bengal Tiger was walking in front of me.

Leg/Boobage Exposure:  How much boobage is too much? Too much skin might send a more forward message. Do I want to be forward? I don’t think I want to be that forward this time... (no judgement to those who do, ain't no shame in your game ladies)

Finding a balance that fits my mood for the evening took at minimum of three outfit changes. Including the all important Undie choice. Cotton, lacy, thong…. I keep trying thongs waiting for the sexy feeling I’ve been told would come once I got use to them. All I’ve gotten from them is the constant thought: “There’s a piece of string up my ass….I hope it doesn't turn into front wedg...Oh, wait...there it goes...”

Once hair and outfit have been completed there's make up. I’m not the greatest at putting it on, but I Loooooove it. I own a ridiculous amount (and I NEED it all!) which I don’t get to play with very often. It’s a little joy in my life. Something that makes me feel feminine and pretty. I like when I feel pretty and a man confirms it by telling me. It’s completely ego driven, I know.  But that feeling when my cheeks get warm and I have to look away for a second is a chemical release like no other.

 

#3 - He Couldn't Even Send a Text To Cancel

 

Now I don't know what happened, maybe something did. But my gut says he just decided he didn’t like me and blew off the date. Being that I’m Adult-ish, I’m OK with the fact that not everyone is going to like me. Hell, I’ve set up dates and cancelled.  Some out of circumstance but others out of realizing I don’t have any interest and don't want to take the aforementioned time to make myself presentable. That’s my truth.

Canceling on someone always sucks. Dates, friends, meetings. There’s an expectation and you’re not living up to your end.  For a moment in time you have be a Dick and no one wants to be a Dick. Even for a two minute phone call or a 5 word text (Sorry, can’t make it tonight) that would have resulted in me saying “Huh, that sucks” followed by pizza and beer with my dog.

Admitting these kinds of truths to yourself can be difficult. I know I push them down, mask them with drinking, or working out too much. But saying it, outloud, getting it out,  shortens my time on the Dick-o-meter and I can get on with life. So...

 

My name is Sarah and I’m a Dick, that’s my truth…...

and Chris, so are you.

 

 

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GO BIGGER!

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GO BIGGER!

I am 8 hours away from my flight to Tulum Mexico to lead my first Yoga Retreat in a beautiful retreat center Amansala Eco-Chic Resort &Yoga Retreat. (look it up, you may need this in your life).

Five years ago I wrote a goal:  By December 31, 2017 I will have led a yoga retreat @ Amansala in Tulum Mexico.  Simple.  Direct.  Clear.  But not really…..as life of a mom of four children and an owner of three yoga studios creates a very full & fulfilled life.  I lose track of my goals sometimes.

This week I felt distracted & overwhelmed.  You name it and it has come up.  A child with what feels like a serious skin condition worsening, another child who feels anxiety over her workload and back pain that debilitates her, and then another child who is heading into a Championship baseball game for his school and has always had Mom sitting on the first base line as his biggest cheerleader and she will be gone……that is my reality.  Also, I am in the middle of Leadership Training at SHINE, feel some guilt leaving during the training.  So many reasons that could steal my JOY over reaching this goal.

I wrote this vision and goal four and a half years ago - but it actually sparked 10 years ago…I was at my second Level 1 with Baron Baptiste in Tulum.  We were on a silent meditation walk in the morning on the beach and we passed by a resort called Amansala with all these women doing “bootcamp stuff” on the beach and laughing - having a great time.  I looked up and saw a yoga shala overlooking the ocean and thought “I need to be here…..I need to lead a yoga retreat in this spot”.   I felt it in my bones.....like way down deep.

As I write this, I feel overwhelmed, incompetent, fear, love, joy, excitement.   I sacrifice being present with those I love the most to do this, but I also know I can choose a different kind of being Present.  Each day this week leading to the retreat, I sit and remind myself of my vision and goal.  It would be so easy for me to get stuck in the stressed and overwhelmed, but I refuse it.  I share my excitement with my kids and their eyes light up!  They ask the best questions ever.....like am I going fishing (no the answer is NO, I do not choose fishing).  These awesome humans actually confirm my commitment to my goal.  I am also comforted knowing that friends will drive Jude to his baseball tournament this weekend & the other parents will cheer him on, I know friends will help Madi get to from/work,  & that our community loves on my teenagers.  I know Troy will have fun with all his practices and sleepovers scheduled. I am thankful for Skype and FaceTime, texting, emojis, email and Game Changer.  I can stay connected…..I can still be Present.

One discussion I had this week grounded me.  A girlfriend said “You always encourage your children to “GO FOR IT” to move towards their goals, go BIGGER and not let fear or doubt get in the way.  When they are stuck you encourage them to do the next right thing.  You are demonstrating this by reaching for your big goals & showing them the way”.  

All week I reminded myself to enjoy the ride (about 100 times) and I am committed to doing that - only that.  I know I am on the right path - this Yoga Retreat is part of my BIGGER.

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Jianna is JOY!!!!

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Jianna is JOY!!!!

My name is Jianna and I’ve been a part of SHINE Power yoga for two years. I recently finished my week of teacher training and as an aspiring writer, SHINE leaders encouraged me to write a blog about my experience; after a month of writer’s block, I finally got around to writing.

I am nineteen years old, I just finished my freshmen year of college, and now I’m on my way to being a yoga teacher. I’m a huge nerd who loves anything comic book related or sci-fi, I’m very sarcastic, I curse way more than I should, I love to write, and I am ME. Before teacher training, I was kind of all over the place. My first month of community college was spent in depression because all my friends were far from home, living the life, and I felt stuck at home doing the same routine everyday. At first, I didn’t know why I was depressed, when I found the reason I was able to help myself out of the depression (I was still sad but I was able to go out and do things at least). I tried to make new friends at my college, but I suffer from social anxiety (and just anxiety in general) and I’m super introvert, so it was really hard to speak to random people I didn’t know. I made casual conversations with other students but never anything that could start a friendship, so I just kept to myself.

During this time, my mom noticed the shift, so she pushed me to focus on yoga. We took 40 Days to Personal Revolution and Leadership Boot Camp together, which got me inspired to take SHINE Leadership Teacher Training. Being the supportive person that my mom is, she paid for the whole training, which was beyond amazing. As Teacher Training got closer, I started to get extremely nervous. What if I’m not good enough? What if I suck and everyone laughs at me? What if no one wants to talk to me? These were the thoughts that were going through my head the days leading up to Teacher Training. Several people told me I was going to do fine and that I had nothing to worry about, but I was still scared shitless. Finally, the first day of teacher training arrived and I got to meet all the other teachers in training and they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Everyone was so kind and so welcoming, I felt honored that I got to hear their stories and learned more about them during that week. Being with them and learning with them I felt so happy, it was just all together a wonderful experience doing this with them.

As the week progress, I learned so much about being a yoga teacher and about myself. Always stand in your True North, don’t fidget, speak loud and clearly, and be with the Present; although this was advice for when we eventually would teach yoga, I thought it was good advice for my life in general. There was two activities that really stood out to me. The first one, was an activity that I did before during boot camp, but it felt more meaningful the second time around. I was to write down a conflict that I had, it could have been something from long ago or something more recent, I had to share this conflict to the group, then I would cross out parts of the story that wasn’t a fact and then you would re-read only the facts. I wrote about a conflict with my best friend of six years. I first wrote about this conflict at boot camp, when the conflict was still new and fresh, and as I shared my story I could barely read one word without bursting into tears; it hurt to talk about because suddenly my friend of six years didn’t want to be friends anymore over some stupid fight. However, the second time I wrote about the conflict, months had past, and my mind was clear. While rewriting the conflict, I realized that I had become bitter and angry from everything that happened, and that was far from healthy. I decided that I was done being angry, done being bitter, if she didn’t want to be my friend I couldn’t change how she felt, so I accepted it. With acceptance came relief and I felt genuinely okay about the whole situation after sharing it with the group this second time. I wouldn’t have come to that closure as fast as I did without this activity.

The next activity, although very moving, I will not share my experience in great detail because I found it to be very personal. I Hope one day I’ll be able to share my story with others and to help anyone who went through a similar situation. I was asked to write an event from my childhood, something that hurt me or was traumatic to me, something that would cause me to tell myself a lie about myself. Then after sharing my story with the group, I would write a new way of being and say the lie that I was giving up. At first I wrote about how I was bullied at a young age, but as soon as I finished writing my story I realized that it wasn’t the story I wanted to share. I then went on to share a story that I rarely ever tell, and it led to me sobbing in front of the group because it was my first time telling a group this size my story. It was extremely personal, it left me feeling vulnerable and raw, but I felt a weight off my chest, because I let it out in the open. The LIE led me to believe that I was stupid and worthless, but now I know it is a LIE! I declared that “my new way of being is of confidence, power, and self kindness. “The lie that I am giving up is that I am worthless and I am stupid, this is what I am committed to.” Even though I can’t change the past, I can use what happened to me as a stepping stone to get me a better present.

On to the last day of the training, which was probably the best day of the whole training for me. I was sad that the training immersion was over and that I wouldn’t be able to see my newfound friends as often as I did that week, I was also very excited to finally be at this point. We ended our training sharing who we are now and what we will to change when we leave. I talked about how I always felt like I had to wear a mask when I’m around different people, that I should be this or that instead of just being me. I was exhausted all the time and I wasn’t happy at all, so, with some help from my leaders and my friends, I am done with that mask . I can be me, and by being me, I am happy, hence the name of this blog. JIANNA IS JOY!!!!!!!  Being me makes me happy. I am grateful for this process, I just needed a little push in the right direction.

At the end of the day were to teach to a class full of people (Which I was insanely nervous for, but we all ended up doing an awesome job and it was so much fun). We FILLED the studio, mat to mat! At the end of class my Mom came up to me and hugged me while crying, and I still consider it a really special moment because it showed how far I’ve come. Teacher training was one of the most amazing experience that I have ever had in my life and I can’t thank everyone enough for giving me this experience. I can’t wait to be a bigger part of the shine community and start teaching as soon as possible!                                Shine on Bitches (our team cheer)!!!

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Tulum

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Tulum

It was our second to last day in Tulum Mexico. I was there with Wanda and her best friend Regina, the three of us there for Wanda’s 50th Birthday Mexico Celebration. During my time there Wanda’s family and a small gaggle of other friends had made their way back to the states during the week. We were the last ones standing. We decided to spend the day at small Eco-Chic resort. Wanda had called ahead to reserve our plushy blue, beach lounge chairs, which we all immediately plopped ourselves into, adorned with hats and sunglasses. Practically in unison we all reached into our beach bags and opened up a book.

We spent a lovely afternoon sipping drinks, eating wonderful fresh food, reading & occasionally dipping into the ocean to cool off. We had all popped our heads up from our books at the same time to chit chat when Wanda flagged down one of the gentlemen who worked there, “ Excuse me, can we be topless on this beach?”

 

Wait, what?

 

He must have said yes, because two seconds later, Wanda’s bikini top was draped over her lounge chair.

I was agaast. Wanda, You’re Nakie!! IN PUBLIC.

It must have been the cue every other woman at the resort was waiting for, because within 10 minutes I was the only woman with a bikini top ON. It took me a good hour to work up the courage. So many thoughts going through my head.. Body shame...embarrassment... exposing sensitive skin to sun exposure (Ok that one’s valid).

I looked at all the women around me, they were so comfortable. Just, like, fine. I didn’t get it. YOUR BOOBS ARE OUT. Free Range Tatas. How are they doing that? How can I get that? I want that. I regrouped, I applied A LOT of sunscreen, unhooked my top and put it in my beach bag.

 

Huh, it’s not bad.

 

15 minutes later the three of us are naked as the day we were born in the ocean.  

As I bobbed in the waves the strong mexican sun bleached everything I was seeing. The sounds of Wanda and Regina talking went back and forth from real words to Charlie Brown sounds as my head came in and out of the ocean. The water was that temperature that takes a moment or two to get adjusted to, but as soon as you come out, suddenly the air is colder and you dip yourself back in up to your neck to get warm again.  

 

As I bobbed a thought came into my head that shook me. My body is mine.

 

At 36 this was the first time I can remember having this thought, that I owned my own body. There was nothing sexual, there were no expectations, no actions to be taken. Just me, floating on the waves.  I cried, at first from joy, then from the knowledge that this was fleeting.

I try to keep my body at an acceptable scale, I rip unwanted hair out by the root, I adorn my body with lovely things, but I have separated myself from it. It was not something to be cherished or something I had control over otherwise.  

I have asked many times for my body to be touched in a way that makes me feel loved. I want to be able to come home from work and change out of sweaty yoga clothes without being groped. I want to take a shower without feeling like I’m sneaking into the bathroom with Mission Impossible music playing in the background. I want to just be held. Nothing more.  What I was met with was the same phrase I was given time and time again, “Would you rather I never touched you?”  

 

Well, no.

 

I want to be touched. I want that connection with another person. To be given an all or nothing... either your body will be on my terms or not at all… I chose the former.  I say “I chose” because I did. Instead of sticking up for myself, having the conversation that would drive a wedge between us for a few weeks at best, I let myself be the lesser. Then it became the norm.

Cries from here were eventually heard like fussy child tugging on thier Mother’s shirt in a long Target line, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom…..” They were just tuned out by the one person they’re meant for but everyone else around hears loud and clear. Over time, I stopped crying out.  I took on that my feelings didn’t count.  I took on that it didn’t matter how I was being touched, just that I was being touched. The fact that I wanted to curl up and protect myself was irrelevant.

A wave came over my head and through awkward snorts and bit of flailing I come back to where I am. Nude, in the ocean, safe with friends. I regrouped for the second time that afternoon and come back to what is happening now. Just me and the ocean, nothing in between us. Not a whole lot being asked of the other.

The rest of that day was spent much in the same way, books, chit chat, drink, eat, swim. It's the most perfect day I have ever had. Once the sun started making its final descent we made our way home and decided to stay in & eat left overs. With a full belly and mind I went to my room and crawled into bed. I stayed up most of the night, the weight of my thoughts  bearing down on me.

I want to own my body all the time. Not a lease, not a tropical time share. Just mine. How can I make this happen?  How have I let this happen? I let out a sigh and the sound mixes with the sound of the waves outside my room. I flop over on my bed and grab my phone. The screen comes on, the brightness momentarily burning my eyes and I start typing in a distraction.  Are You Being Served reruns play until I fall asleep.

I wake up the next morning lying on the diagonal, starfished out, taking up all the space I possibly can on the bed. In 24 hours I will be heading home. I with a bit a nervous nusia I realize I will have to take the stand for myself that I have been avoiding for so long. I let the feeling sit for a while.

Eventually one of the long white curtains surrounding the room blows up as an ocean breeze moves through. I sigh and smile, I know there’s big things coming but right now it’s just sunlight, waves, bedsheets & the shift inside my body.
 

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Detachment vs. Abandonment

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Detachment vs. Abandonment

Detachment:  the state of being objective or aloof.  Open-mindedness, neutrality, impartiality. Abandonment: to leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; to desert; to give up or withdraw from.

This struggle is real for me.  I am the mother of four beautiful people who I have raised to be filled to the brim with passion, individuality and independence and I find myself feeling abandoned at times.  This feeling causes me so much pain in my center/heart that I can’t breath and I just want to push these people back inside….push them back into my womb where they need me to survive literally.  

Whenever I feel overwhelmed with a strong feeling like abandonment I sit and ask myself to get to the root of it.  I look up the definition of the word and I see if there is another word that can show up the same way and has a different context/meaning and then I keep that going until the lightbulb goes off.  I do this with my work, I do this in my marriage and I do this with my kids. 

For me - Detachment feels ALOT like abandonment.

This past year Gabrielle decided she was going to go to Charlotte for Thanksgiving.  She went to West Virginia last Thanksgiving, so this feels like two years in a row, she chose another family.  Humph!  When I texted her to see what her plans were (meaning when are you coming home) and she said “Christian and I are going to Charlotte for Thanksgiving with HIS PARENTS,  I felt abandoned big time.  I wanted to scream, but you didn’t come home last year….but I haven’t seen you in months (it was only two weeks in reality), but manipulation Mom reared her ugly head.  So in the below  the line fashion of “passive/agressive” I sent a sad face emoji and said well, ok, I will just be all alone this Thanksgiving ending with heart emoji.  Even though I was so far from alone - it really felt that way.

Two weeks ago I was texting my kids from Hawaii.  I was sending them all these love notes and missing you notes.  My daughter Madeline always responds back with “love you too” or “hurry home” or “jealous, wish I was there”.  My son Jude’s response is NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!  I felt so abandoned by him that I sent him a personal text (because he didn’t answer the phone call) asking if he recognized that I was even gone????  His response “Yes”.  That’s it - just one word Yes.  So I said, “Do you miss me?”  his response was again Yes, one word just Yes.  NO exclamation points, heart emoji, not even in all CAPS.  Just Yes.   Oh God - abandonment issues again.  I wanted a "YES!!!!!!!!!!!  I can’t live without you - your amazing and I am starving and dirty and maybe will not live without you."

So here is what the abandonment voice in my head sounds like (picture a whiny, annoying, fast paced rant).

Oh my God, I am a terrible mother - no one loves me - I give them too much responsibility and so that means they don’t need me - I have failed - they are gonna do drugs tonight because of me - they are gonna keep secrets - they are gonna end up in jail with tattooed eyeballs and its my fault - they think I suck - they like everyone elses  mom more because they bake cookies for dinner - I should adopt a baby and start over after this failure with my birth children - i should have nursed them for four years - I should have worn them all day and not worked  -I should-a should-a should-a - oh god I have a headache now.

GET THE PICTURE????

So I went on my search for what is real.  Instead of this fake news bullshit in my head. (fake news sucks, we just found that out right?) The truth is they are practicing DETACHMENT and that is exactly what I have set them up for.  It is healthy and amazing and good.

You see, I want my daughters to be fiercely independent and authentic.  To love who they love.  To make decisions about their bodies based on their truth. To walk into a party and smile and feel confident.  To dress how they like to dress, without feeling pressure to dress sexy.  To walk into a college interview and nail it.  To walk into a job interview and ask for $100,000 because that is what their counterparts with penises will do.  To travel the world and see themselves in the eyes of everyone.  To camp in the Kenyan wilderness amongst the lions and FEAR NOT.  To not ask a boy to kill that spider - but to see the beauty of the spider (Gabrielle will never accomplish this).

I want my sons to be a stand for EVERY single person in their school.  I want my sons to be Kind first and Popular second.  I want my sons to do their own laundry & cook in college with confidence.  I want my sons to choose to love who they love and honor that person to that persons core.  I want my sons to have a ninja spirit - calm on the outside while warrior vision on the inside - so they hit it out of the park (all things).  I want my sons to not whine about what everyone else has and learn how to earn it.  I also want my boys to step up and speak out against bigotry and assholeness (they do this already).

SO if that is what I want - than how can they stay attached to me?  How can they depend on me completely and for everything. How can they cease to function when I am gone. I find parenting girls so much easier (for me) because they tell me EVERYTHING!  Seriously from how bad their cramps are, what they dreamed about, food cravings, love & what they are confused about and working on.  My sons, they just tell me who is the best first baseman in the MLB and his stats.  They tell me their favorite soccer play and why.  They tell me their high score on their PS4 thingy.  Then they tell me when they have an itch on their testicles and laugh because Mom says “I want to know it ALL - good, bad, ugly, stinky. They DO give the best hugs on the planet though.

Moral of this blog post?  I am going to choose to allow them to DETACH  which means open mindedness and independence.  I will choose to not feel ABANDON which means to forsake and desert me.  I recognize that I want them to detach - as the string of love and family is so strong and that string can stretch across the world without breaking.  It is a pliable, rainbow colored, loving string. My temporary discomfort allows a lifetime of Joy & Love.  

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You want success - Clean the Floor!

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You want success - Clean the Floor!

I want every single yoga leader to be the best yoga leader on the planet - to reach their goals and crush it!  To create their own programs and be at cause for BIG change in the world.  I celebrate their progress, growth, packed classes, being in demand! I celebrate all their awesomeness!!!!  But there are times I wonder, do they want it as much as I want it for them? 

Consider this:  The day you receive your 200 hour YTT, that is the beginning - not the end of anything, but is actually ground zero and it is a FAR climb to the top.  Keep looking up and for the top.  

If you aren’t growing as quickly as you would like, ask these questions?  Are you willing to be coached and receive feedback, without reaction…active listening required. Are you stagnant & expecting the studio to grow you instead of YOU grow YOU? Are you curious to see what you do not see, to believe you don’t know what you don’t know?   Do you talk talk talk without listening to what you are saying? Did you become less desirable to the community, because you lost the desire to do ALL THE work - not just the fun stuff that makes you popular.   Do you practice as a student regularly, or just show up when your getting a paycheck? After 29 years leading, I still need feedback and integration and mentorship!  I still need to be held accountable for how I show up.   I still need to stay on my A game, take class regularly and be curious, to work hard at it.  I still clean my own floor, check in my class and pick up trash on the way in and keep my side of the sidewalk litter free.  I am not a fan of being introduced to students as "the owner of SHINE", I never introduce myself that way......because I am a student like them, a yoga teacher to serve them.....NO GRACE, NO GLORY is my motto.

If YOU want to be a highly paid professional yoga teacher,  If You want to have packed classes,  If You want to be asked to teach master classes and retreats all around the world,  if You want to own a successful business of any kind one day ..... This requires you to Open your mind and ears to hear what others feel when you lead them.  Ask for Feedback all the time.  Practice Humble.  Practice Kindness. Practice Curiosity.  Practice Working Hard.  Look for what you do not see. STOP and learn something instead of reacting to it.  Clean the Floor.  Clean it until is sparkles and then clean it again.

Practice Practice Practice - AND get on your mat…like all the time - get on your mat.  

Practice, Practice, Practice and all is coming!

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ZEN is a three letter word

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ZEN is a three letter word

Still exhaling Y’All…..and it feels freaking amazing.  My insides are getting lighter every time I write, as I sit in the sun soaking in some Vitamin D, eating fresh vibrant whole foods, no alcohol and a gallon of water a day.  I allow my self to actually be Zen.

The reason I feel compelled to write this one is because I have been on a search for ZEN and not feeling very ZEN-like the past 8 months.  Instead of ZEN-like, I feel overwhelmed, anxious, alone, overworked and under appreciated.  Yes, this yogi feels that way at times too.  Except, for me it is typically only for an hour I allow these feelings and then I check myself, go “above the line” and find my ZEN.  I have not experienced a period of darkness last this long ever.  I doesn’t fit me well and I have decided to take that outfit off and throw it in the fireplace.

It began last summer when opening the SHINE Margate studio, which was a dream come true.  But quickly the three-some of our SHINE team became a two-some and I was underwater.  When I feel a struggle - I don’t give in, ever, to a fault actually.  I just find a way to make that shit work - as gracefully as I can.  I keep my eye on the prize and focus on it.  At the same time as this happening, we had a team of yogis heading to Africa and needing to fundraise. Looking to me to lead the charge - I wasn’t able to fully do that and operate/manage the third studio.  I literally ran myself into the ground.  It is imperative that I take care of myself - physically, spiritually and mentally.  I did not.  Needless to say the ball starting rolling quickly downhill and I kept pushing it back uphill and losing the battle.  My health deteriorated, my blood disease became active and in a danger zone and I had to pull out of going to Africa for service.  Not allowed to travel.  I felt Sad, Anger, Shame and Resentment.  I needed to heal my body but also needed to fundraise and be at cause for others.  Every day I would say “just get thru today Wanda and tomorrow you can focus on you” and tomorrow never came.  Treatments ensued, lots of doctors appointments, more treatments.  Doctors asked me to step away from work for 30 days - I said NO, I have SHINE Medford to open and time is a ticking.  Until it all came crashing in - a morning where I literally couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk coherently and I had to stop.  That was only one week before Christmas.  WAKE UP CALL…..that I finally picked up instead of sending it to voicemail again.  

I sat down and listened to my body, my doctors and my intuition.  I began a regime of healing my brain, my blood and my heart.  I am committed to finding ZEN and remembering what ZEN really truly is in the middle of all situations - 100% of them - with no exceptions.  So here is my list of ZEN and I hope it encourages you to make a list too.  EXHALE people - too much inhaling leads to suffocation.

ZEN - is just a three letter word reminding myself that life is a full spectrum sport - with brutal ugly days and amazingly beautiful sunny days and staying consistent through both of them - as all are temporary.  Search & see the neutral ground.

ZEN - is just a three letter word for turning the other cheek when a friend/teacher/family member goes into reaction mode and decides to play the victim card until it wears the hell out.  Turning the other cheek actually means “to look away and set your eyes in another direction” it doesn’t mean let them slap the hell out of the other side of your face/heart.  

ZEN - is just a three letter word for choosing to go to bed an hour early instead of staying up to watch TV you don’t care about because you think your “being with” your family (who are watching said tv and really don’t care that you just want your bed).

ZEN - is just a three letter word for having the difficult conversation that will be “at cause” for the change you need to happen at work/home….the conversation that removes what is stagnant and just needs you to exhale into it so it will move again.

ZEN - is just a three letter word for taking a bubble bath.

ZEN - is just a three letter word for the agreement I have for my children, that if Mom is gonna drive their beautiful behinds all over the country for travel sports, they will do laundry, clean and cook daily.  And believe me my boys & daughters have nailed this!  No complaints because it isn’t optional - it is called agreement.  

ZEN is just a three letter word for choosing to get on your yoga mat 6 days a week instead of making excuses about being too busy.  No yoga mat means you choose to be in pain which is NON-ZEN.

ZEN is just a three letter word for beginning at 1 when your list feels like it has 59842 items on it.  You know you can’t complete that much on the list - so why are you stressing??  Just begin at what needs to happen right now and then move to the next important thing.  Stop when your kids get home from school and then be with them.

ZEN is a three letter word for lunch with a girlfriend.

ZEN is a three letter word for choosing to LOVE when apathy wants to set in.

ZEN is a three letter word for believing in something - faith.

ZEN is a three letter word for downloading 10 books you can’t wait to read.

ZEN is a three letter word for when your husband says “my work just rewarded us with four days in Hawaii and I want to go for 8, do you wanna come” and your reply isn’t BUT the kids, BUT I have three studios, BUT ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.  When you live in ZEN you say HELL YEAH - I need to buy a bikini.

ZEN is a three letter word for choosing to see the center of every situation - not the worse case scenario and not the best case scenario - but actually the middle - where you respond instead of react.  Take the good with the bad - take the middle road that has no short cuts but gets you there the scenic route.  Sometimes the center/long road takes longer and sometimes it moves quicker and with ease avoiding lots of traffic jams.

ZEN is a three letter word that tells me to DO THE WORK.  ALL THE WORK - not just the hard stuff to build a successful business and happy family but this includes the work that builds Wanda to be a healthy, vibrant woman of God who loves her family, a servant of people ALL people.

ZEN - it is just a three letter word.  You choose ZEN when you choose to create it and you go with the ebb and flow

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LOVE HEALS.....and sometimes so do words

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LOVE HEALS.....and sometimes so do words

I have been sitting on this blog for two months. Why, because I was stuck on the title. Then I got on my flight this morning to Hawaii, opened a book I have seen saving for this day - knowing it would make the 11 1/2 hour flight from Newark to Honolulu a pleasure. The books opens with this “Reading is when I inhale, Writing is when I exhale”. Holy Shitballs - that is what I have been needing all this time? To exhale, I need to write - not read. I have been inhaling a shitstorm for months, stuffing more air in there ready to explode and not sure how to stop. So here goes.

It was Friday, October 14th, I was leading the 9:30am yoga class in Maple Shade. I was tired both physically, spiritually and energetically. I had not been sleeping, the pending election and all the press from the candidates was taking up way too much space in my life. I was at times paralyzed by reading the news. I gave up watching the news years ago - but all of a sudden reading it was all I was doing. I replaced all of my books with news. Yahoo News, CNN News, I even went to Fox News a few times to see what the other side was reading, wondering if they actually knew about Donald Trump and what the religious right had to say about him. Then I would go to bed angry at all the Godly people - feeling like I didn’t belong to them anymore either. At the end of that yoga class, I asked the community of students to end class with the word Namaste’. This word means “The Light inside of me, honors the Light inside of You”. ALL OF YOU. Even those who will vote for Donald Trump. I almost choked, I actually could only whisper it, because I felt like the biggest fraud that ever lived. Hypocrite screamed at myself.

I left that class rocked to my core. I felt Shame, big time. I said to myself “Wanda, you can’t say that word Namaste' unless you mean it. You can’t make a profession with your voice when it isn’t the truth. I have never been able to hide from my truth EVER.

It follows me everywhere I go. I decided to go home and meditate. You see, God speaks to me when I meditate. I open the door to him. I needed to hear him, as my evangelical christian friends voice no longer spoke to me. He said to me “Wanda, you know there is a Light inside every human I created. Even Donald Trump. Now my daughter, work at softening your heart to his presidency and accept what you can not change." WHOA! Holy Shit (literally).

So my next class I was to lead was Monday - I ended the class the same way. I would close my eyes, hands at my heart and say the words Namaste’. The students had no idea how each time I said it, I was healing a whole deep inside my being, that I was letting go of judgment and pain with this word. Donald Trump and the man I perceive him to be is the opposite of all I want my sons to grow up to be, I had to let that go. It was an inner battle, but I had to honor Gods Light in this man or stop staying the word.

Namaste’ Namaste’ Namaste’....over and over I would say it. I would begin my classes with this manifestation to each person in the room. I said it until I felt it so freaking hard. It became a big love fest inside me.

What began on that Friday was a Divine healing. This manifestation I set softened me. It allowed me to be of acceptance of whatever the outcome of the election would be

as well as acceptance of all the students who walked in the door. I didn’t need to know who they were voting for - because I honored their Light. Period end of sentence. I choose this. I felt this. It drew me out of the abyss.

As we all know the outcome of this election, yes I felt sad on November 4th. Yes, I supported Hillary Clinton to the end and would do so again. Yes, I stand for my daughters and everyones daughters. Yes, I will fight for them. Yes, I will make my voice heard - but I have to be a NO as well. No, I will not judge and I will not frown upon those who feel differently. I will stay open to recognize their light and I hope they can do the same for me.

I encourage you the next time you take a yoga practice, think of the word Namaste’ when you say it. What hole of judgement, resentment, loss of love can it heal. Say it loud - feel it in your deepest space called your God Space....Center of your Heart. 

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NEVER Underestimate Yourself

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NEVER Underestimate Yourself

As I drove home from co-leading my first SHINE Kid’s Yoga Teacher Training, I thought to myself WOW. I teach 6 year old kids on a day to day basis but I had NO idea that I could be a

strong leader for adults as well. Yes, I teach power yoga and kid’s yoga classes at SHINE, and I still doubted myself. I shared my doubt with one of my best friends on the phone and she was like Rachael that’s what you do, YOU TEACH! I felt like there was a big difference in having the ability to teach others to teach kids yoga and what I do as my career. My self talk was “I was too young and that they would doubt my experience to lead.”

I created a story before the training began and I allowed it take up too much of my thoughts. I feel many of us create stories about ourselves in our mind. I created a BIG story of self- doubt. I underestimated myself as a Leader. Once I met all seven of our trainees, I felt this wall I created in my mind was knocked down. Seeing how all of them showed up with no expectations and with a smile allowed me to be myself. All of them were so willing to learn together, collaborate and to listen.


After our first day of the training, I felt JOY and PASSION for what I chose to do with my life and my free time. This did not feel like a weekend of work at all. Yes, I had to wake up early and get things prepared but I find when I am highly passionate about something I am ready to GO. Ready to show up for myself and for the others around me.


As we passed around the gratitude jar during the kids class ( that the trainees taught ) I knew exactly what I wanted to right down. I was grateful for my Presence and for everyone who showed up to learn how to influence children in a positive way through yoga. The trainees taught an AMAZING class to the kids. Right there I wanted to cry. YES, I am a big SAP but I actually like being emotional and allow myself to feel. I was even about to cry on my ride home because my heart felt so FULL for being able to spend this weekend with such an AWESOME group of women.


I feel so GRATEFUL for each of these girls who came to the training and for giving the training 100%. I feel like I gained seven new best friends. This is a BIG reason why I joined the yoga community. It is like a second home to me and the women who work at SHINE Power Yoga are my sisters. There was no judgment present in the yoga room and with the positive energy level, I was able to be at my fullest potential.


My vision for SHINE Power Yoga Kids does not stop here. I have BIG things planned for the future. You can always manifest what you want and if you want it bad enough you can achieve it. I told Wanda how I printed out more certifications than students registered because I was manifesting a bigger turn out. She wrote back to me “ Create a vision of what you want and you will get it.” This really stuck with me. Right now, I am manifesting that this is the first of many SHINE Kid’s Teacher Trainings. I will also STRIVE to make yoga part of the school communities. With the collaboration of these trainees, I feel like my goals can most definitely be met. I will NEVER underestimate myself again and will keep moving forward.

“JUST KEEP TEACHING!” is what the inner-DORY inside me would say. 

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Inaction Breeds Doubt and Fear

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Inaction Breeds Doubt and Fear

"Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit and think about it. Go out and get busy." - Dale Carnegie

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Emily, and I'm a Community Builder at Shine Maple Shade. I've been practicing at Shine for 1 1/2 years now. I just returned from Kenya with a group of SHINE teachers for Africa Yoga Project's igolu Personal Power & Wholeness Seva Safari.

When Wanda posted about this amazing opportunity to travel & be of service in Kenya with AYP, my intuition told me to sign up. I committed to the trip in March and spent the next months fundraising and telling everyone about our trip. But nothing would prepare me for the experiences and feelings that would come during my time in Kenya. Though I knew little of what I'd be doing in Kenya during those months (and days) leading up to the trip, I wasn't scared. I wasn't nervous. I knew in my gut that I was going to the right place, at the right time. For one of the first times in my life, I had no expectations. I wanted this experience to be completely organic, to arise and meet me for exactly what it was and for who I was. As Alissa mentioned in her earlier blog post, I believed that if I simply showed up, everything would fall into place. And it definitely did.

But even though you make the move to show up, it doesn't mean it will be easy. It doesn't mean you won't be scared. It doesn't mean you won't face challenges. And just because you show up, it doesn't mean the demons in your mind won't be there to greet you at every turn. On this trip, I became well acquainted with the voices in my head that tried to tell me I could not do things simply because I was scared.

So what was I scared of? Well, I wasn't scared of traveling 20+ hours on two planes to a new continent. I wasn't scared of driving & walking through the slums of Nairobi. I wasn't scared of the wild animals we saw on safari (okay, maybe I was a little scared of the hippos...and the monkeys). I wasn't scared of getting sick (the doctors here in the US really try to scare you out of traveling, I swear). No, I found out that I was terrified of building desks. Yes, building desks with hammer and nails.

We showed up to the service site in the slum called Kangemi where were greeted by the amazing AYP teachers & our angelic service leader, Samson. After getting situated, I looked around and saw many different sized wooden planks, hammers & nails, and I got scared. My heart started racing as if I were in a truly terrifying situation. As I looked around, the demons in my mind began to rattle off a long list of things which included (but were not limited to) the following: "I don't know how to build desks", "I can't get dirty", "I'm not strong enough to hammer these nails", "I grew up too 'girly' for this kind of work", and "I'm not smart enough to remember which planks go where". And then underneath all of that surface level stuff, what my demons were actually trying to tell me was, "The desks you're building will NOT be perfect, so you probably shouldn't even touch a hammer."

You see, I've struggled with perfectionism my entire life. I've beaten myself up time and time again for not doing everything exactly how it "should" be done. And there I was, standing in the dirt with everyone around me banging nails into wood, heart pounding and contemplating how I could find a way to complete some other part of the project (one that didn't have anything to do with building desks). I wanted to find something "safe" to do that I'd be "good" at. But I quickly realized that wasn't an option. So I had a choice to make: help build the 40 desks that would mean a whole new world of learning for a few hundred children, or sit in the dirt and do NOTHING because I wouldn't ever build them perfectly.

In that moment, I realized that I could recognize that my fears were there, but I could take action anyway. I didn't know what the outcome would be, but I did know that my desire to serve would carry me through. I soon learned that the incredible people serving around me were also there to carry me through.

Lisa was the perfect desk building partner for me. She and I laughed at ourselves and joked about not being the best carpenters. Then in between our laughter, Lisa said, "You know what? I'm 100% okay with being me." This was a profound statement to me because as Lisa was true to herself, she created the space for me to be okay with "being me," too. I loved how she showed herself compassion just as one would show compassion to a best friend. Her comment reminded me that all I needed to do was to just be myself, and in doing so, my work would be meaningful.

The next person who helped build me up was AYP teacher James (Jamo). He was helping Lisa and I build the last of the desks. We were having a hard time getting a few of the nails in straight, and the demons in my head started back up again, telling me my efforts weren't good enough. I remember saying "Sorry I'm so bad at this," to Jamo, to which he patiently replied with a chuckle, "You are fine! You are great just as you are." I was taken aback by these simple yet significant words and his belief in me. He didn't care that the nails weren't straight. He cared that we were there, and he cared about the kids that would benefit from the work. He let me know that my efforts were enough and that I was enough. And that was all I needed.

I learned that when I shifted my focus away from myself and my demons, the more energy I could give to caring about those I was serving and the higher purpose I was there for. This not only enabled me to be successful in building the desks, but it allowed my heart to be filled up in ways I didn't think were possible. The desk building experience opened me up to connection with others on an authentic level and showed me just how much we need each other to be successful in life's many endeavors.

I am so grateful for Lisa & Jamo, and also Alissa, Kristen, Wanda, our leaders Patrick & Cate and Daniel McCall, the AYP Teachers, Samson and all of the other incredible people who made me feel like family. The paradox of serving is that though you seek to help others, you are the one who is helped the most. I found that to be 100% true from my trip to Kenya. My life has been forever changed by the love of these people who aren't afraid to go out in the world and get busy changing it for the better.

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What Happens When You Come Back From Africa

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What Happens When You Come Back From Africa

I’ve been back from Africa for one day. I traveled 24 hours from the time I left the Jewel Stone Hotel in Nairobi to the time I got back to my house in New Jersey. I spent most of the plane ride on the way home writing. I wrote about everything I could remember. I wrote about the sounds, the smells, and all of the feels of each moment. I let it really fill me up; this trip to Africa on Seva Safari with Africa Yoga Project. I’ll be honest it really feels like a dream.

I dreamed about doing something bigger in service since I can remember. For 28 years I really had no idea what that meant. Early this year Wanda posted about a Seva Safari with the amazing Daniel McCall who lead my yoga teacher training. I remember like it was yesterday seeing the post and instantly getting this feeling like “I’m going to Africa”. I didn't know the hows or the whys but I instantly felt connected to it.

There were some really rocky times in the weeks leading up to Africa. Mostly it was stress and anxiety leading up to an unknown 10 days of service. I had little to no idea what we would do while we were there. I had no idea how I could be of service other than teaching yoga or being a general manager. How would I fill 10 days to help others when the two things that fill most of my time back home will not be either of the things I would be doing? This was totally out of my element.

While we were there we did everything from yoga practice (of course), to visiting the slums, to building 40 desks by hand, to dealing with a bad accident, to building and completing a two story 8 classroom school, to working on self dreams and visions. We biked through the Savannah and went on one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever completed. There were plenty of highs and lows as expected on a trip of this magnitude.

On the very last night we all went out to dinner to relax and like every other night we sat and each spoke about what was showing up for us. We spoke about what was so significant for us on this trip. I sobbed through my speech speaking to how much I appreciated the leaders Cate & Patrick (both AYP Teachers) and Daniel for not only walking with us through this journey but for also being there for us. I’ve been a leader for as long as I can remember but these folks showed up different. They really portrayed how to live bigger. I was witnessing it with my own eyes. I was feeling the give and take of living your dream and it was equally beautiful and terrifying.

Mostly all of the AYP leaders thanked us for being big and inspiring them and inspiring the kids in the Kangemi Slum. The slum we built a schoolhouse in had hundreds of kids who were watching us each day. The AYP teachers reiterated how thankful they were that we made a difference. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here I was in amazement of all they’ve done for us and the thankfulness I felt in my heart for them showing us their beautiful country and they're thanking me?

I let it all sink in at that table and then it broke me. I cried the hardest I’ve ever cried in my life. I got off the bus and immediately went to the room by myself. ALL of the below the line chicken voices in my head that Daniel speaks about were coming up. Why me? Why did I deserve to be here? I shouldn't have come. I’m not big enough. I didn’t help enough. I just smiled and painted and showed up. And there it was. I probably said “ you just showed up” 100x in my head until I got somewhere. It hit me: Making a difference isn't always about what is tangible. We built a school in 4 days and that’s very real. But so are the feelings imprinted on everyone who SHOWED UP those days. I’m coming to find out it’s not about what you have but how you make others feel that matters most. We showed BIG determination to go to Africa in the weeks before leaving. We all dropped what we knew and showed up EVERY day in every aspect of the days we were there. By all showing up we were able to be inspired to be even bigger together as a community and thats what true service is all about. I don't have to be the best yogi, or a general manager, or a yoga teacher, or painter or carpenter. If I just show up and cultivate togetherness big things happen. Big shifts will be organic and will spread so that everyone lives the fullest life.

I always had this idea that doing something bigger would be all angels and butterflies and it'll just happen if it’s meant to. I now can accept that I’m enough the way I am. I’m ready now to do bigger things everyday through the trenches of bad and through the waves of greatness. I’m ready to do to the work and believe in something bigger because I believe it now. Maybe I didn’t need to go to Africa to understand it but I’ll be grateful every day for the rest of my life for the opportunity to feel and accept what making a difference is. I never let myself be open to this, until now. Even on my first day back it still feels like a dream. I feel like a won the lottery. I will dream and live through the people in Kenya and hold them in my heart forever for the new prospective they provided for me.

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I Flipped My Script

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I Flipped My Script

Welcome to the world of social media. Last year a friend posted a group photo with me in it without asking first!!! When it first popped up on Facebook, my mind flooded with negative thoughts about how fat I looked and what people would think and/or say. “Shit, I thought, I’m tagged in this F***ing pic. Everybody is going to see it. Wait, I will hide it from my timeline. Damnit, that won’t make a difference; she has friends that have friends that have friends, blah blah blah”…;

Well time passed on by and I am happy people will forget they saw that photo! Whew!!!” Low and behold, one year later what appears? My friend’s “Memories,” yep, you guessed it; there’s that picture again. When it first re-appeared, I didn’t’ know if I wanted to kick her or kiss her. Fast forward to now, this photo inspired me to FLIP MY SCRIPT.

My idea of what was considered “pretty,” came from what I saw and heard outside of my home/family. I was fortunate to come from a family that was supportive and encouraging. I escaped being bullied and taunted in school, even though I was a bit “chubby” in elementary school. I believe I was in 4th or 5th grade when I began to notice that I was larger than my friends. Around that time that I began to compare my body size and development to my peers.

I must have said something to my Mother because I recall her saying that I was normal. She explained that everyone develops differently and that at my age it was just “baby fat.” I really don’t recall what else she said; but whatever it was, it must have sat well with me for the time being because I just moved on.

During my Teen years, most of what I learned about body image came from watching the older sisters of my friends, television shows and media advertisements. Based on my observations, I drew my own conclusion that “thinner equaled better.”

To better explain, during the time that I was coming up, light skin and thin body was preferred. As a darker skinned girl, I concluded that since I couldn’t do anything about my complexion, I could beat the odds by getting and staying thin.

During my Junior and Senior years, it was very important (so I believed) to be thin. At the time, I still had not experienced much external negativity or criticism about my appearance or weight. But, in my mind, I needed to be proactive to ensure that I wasn’t subjected to body shaming. I dug into my mental archives. I searched and recalled the images and messages of early on: the thinner girls got the dates, the thinner girls were accepted & popular and overall, thinner girls were “prettier.”

And so it began…while I was never clinically diagnosed, what I know now about eating disorders and body dysmorphia, I exhibited the associated behaviors. I began my quest to be thin by not eating. It all made sense to me, eating can make me fat, so not eating will make me thin. The latter was definitely true. I didn’t eat; I was thin. However, not eating caused me to lose my hair. It was an obvious hair loss. I had a very large bald spot in the front of my head. My mother took me to see a doctor who diagnosed me with protein and calcium malnutrition. He didn’t say why or how I had this, but inside I knew. I kept it a secret. Inside I said “Shit, the jig’s up. I have to start eating” and I did. I believe was 19 at the time. I spent the next year eating “just enough” to keep my family from being suspicious and questioning my eating patterns. I was extremely thin at the time.

Around this time I began to seriously date the person who I would later marry. What I know now to be true, my being thin, was his attraction. Five years or so later, as I began to gain weight, I’m found myself in full on “I Hate My Body” mode. I would spend the next 10 years vacillating between not eating and binging and purging and/or taking laxatives. I would exercise obsessively. I’d tried diets, fasts, cleanses, etc. all for the sake of trying to be thin. It was no longer about trying to be proactive, trying to be pretty so others would accept me or to fit in. My sole intention was to make the person that I had chosen as a life mate happy. I had things said to me such as, “you’re getting undesirable;” “if you get any fatter, I’m leaving.” Hence body shaming.

Over the course of those 10 years, I lost confidence and my self- esteem was gone. I added more negative self- talk that further validated my earlier beliefs. I created my script, I’m not good enough. I’m ugly, I’m fat, and I’m unworthy.

I began to hate the way I looked and refused to take pictures or I’d hide in the back. I would critique every part of my body from my dark skin, to the size of my thighs. I’d convinced myself that I was unlovable and undeserving. When I left that marriage, I took all of that baggage that by the grace of God has now become my fine luggage that I carry with me on my new journey.

It has taken me nearly 20 years to FLIP MY SCRIPT. I have love and support of my husband Greg, my family, friends and my Yoga Community. My journey and approach to self-love and acceptance may be similar to or vastly differ from that of others who have or had poor body image. But my message speaks to everyone. My passion and commitment today is to encourage others to be inspired by something that will lead them to self love.

The picture that inspired me was taken after a Yoga class 2 years ago. I practice yoga consistently now for almost 2 years and am currently a SHINE Power Yoga Ambassador. I learned to embrace who I am through my yoga practice and my training. I recently went to Level One training with Baron Baptiste. Since I’ve returned, I have had several people mention differences that they see in my way of being. The other day a student at the studio said to me, “you look lighter.” I thanked her and smiled. Her statement has nothing to do with my skin color or my weight and everything to do with how I show up. I have dropped the years of negative self-talk – I have FLIPPED MY SCRIPT and oozes out of my pores as:

Black is Beautiful. My Body Fat is Healthy. I Love and Accept Myself. I am Who, Where and How I am Supposed to Be: I am Gina, I am Alive, and I am Body Confident.

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EMBRACE NAKED REALITY

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EMBRACE NAKED REALITY

I have just returned from SHINE Leadership Training and read Being of Power, by Baron Baptiste to complete my essay assignment.  Oh what timing this turned out to be........one of the laws of being powerful is Embrace Naked Reality.

In this present moment Embrace Naked Reality speaks to me the most. The naked reality in my life is what I do and don't do with the good and bad, the clean and messy, the comfortable and uncomfortable situations. It is what I do or don't do with my feeling of excitement when I found out I was pregnant the day I returned from training and the sadness and tears when I knew I lost my baby. 

The truth is, it was challenging for me to practice embracing the naked reality of what I was experiencing around my miscarriage.  I knew something was wrong and instead of embracing the naked reality of it I made it more challenging. I started to give meaning to everything, I went into reaction mode. I let anger and frustration take me over. 

I remember sitting in the stupid patient chair with my legs spread open while the ultrasound tech was so annoyingly quiet taking measurements. When she didn’t say anything I wanted to punch her but when she finally spoke I still wanted to punch her. You are going to laugh when I tell you what she said that made me so crazy. She said, “breathe”. Oh my goodness I was being such a bitchI wanted to say to her“I am a yoga teacher, I tell students every damn day to breath, I KNOW HOW TO BREATHE!” I want to punch her. My head chatter at that point was in a state of fear,  I knew something was wrong, I let the fear and anger take me over.

After she finished, she asked me to get dressed and go to the waiting room, she told me the doctor would come and get me. I was not leaving that room without seeing what was wrong so I took a few extra minutes and looked at the screen to find that the sac where my baby should have been happily growing...and the sac was empty. I waited for the doctor and waited and waited. Oh boy my thoughts were not nice at all while I waited. Everyone I saw was fucking pregnant in those next fifteen minutes that felt like eternity, even the fucking nurse! So when I finally saw the doctor to receive the confirmation that there was no baby, I had to take the ultra sound techs advise and focus on my breath to get through those painful couple of moments. I felt like a building just collapsed on me.  Right then, I was all alone, I was broken, it was like breathing through an opening the size of a coffee straw under a fallen building.

That place also where I had to find out how strong I was. I had to let the baby go I had to be alone and feel the hurt and I had to connect with my shallow breath one breath at a time.  I had to tell myself you can do this and you are going to be fine. I had to sit with the naked reality. I was able to maintain my breath and sustain a rhythm that was open and clear. I was able to love myself here in this place.  I needed to be vulnerable and raw. I made a decision to embrace this reality and not feel sorry for myself that I miscarried.  I made a decision to stop creating stories that cause more drama.

Embracing my Naked Reality with no filter is that I miscarried. I will create space to handle the situation in a nonreactive way.  I will process this with LOVE.  I will mindfully work at holding on to this space with love & compassion.

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I Almost Did Not Go

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I Almost Did Not Go

I am extremely grateful for the experience I had on beautiful Daufuskie Island at the Shine Leadership Training 2016.  The entire experience exceeded my expectations.  One of the greatest gifts that I have given myself…..ever! 

I feel a deep respect & admiration for Wanda Gilhool, Sarah Esposito, Rachele Cipollone, and Daniel McCall.  The VALUE provided by this team was exceptional and the experience was extraordinary.

I ALMOST DID NOT GO.........

My wife Tracy is a passionate & committed Yogi for over 14 years.  She encouraged me sign up for the Leadership Boot camp in January.  This Bootcamp began to open my eyes to what is possible in this process and convinced me to do the entire program this April.

You see, I have not always been completely supportive of Tracy’s yoga path, her goals and her dreams related to Yoga.  Outwardly I was positive,  but inside a part of me was very negative.  I found myself resistant to her gentle suggestions about how good Yoga could be for me if I gave it a chance.  I practiced Yoga a little and liked how it felt, but never committed to it as a lifestyle.  I never fully listened to Tracy when she came back from Yoga Trainings feeling fully inspired.  Just not my thing.....

I found myself thinking, how could Yoga training compare to what I did?  I am an “EXECUTIVE” with a “REAL JOB” in charge of a Leadership Development Department for my company.  I have been to MANY executive and leadership trainings.  I have LED them.  What were the “YOGA PEOPLE” going to teach me about leadership?  I run marathons and also completed the Ironman in Lake Placid.  What was a little stretching going to do for me?  How could a bunch of touchy feely, dirt digging tree-hugging BS be good for me?  How real or good could it be really?

THAT thinking wasn’t even close to be what happened!

There was a point in the training where this really hit me hard.  I said to my group, “I came all the way to Daufuskie Island, SCto realize what a “DICK” I have been showing up as in multiple areas of my life!”   If I were married to me I am pretty sure I would have left.  Tracy stayed and has always been a stand for the best version of me always.   Her patience and strength inspire me. 

Some of my takeaways from the week….

I feel great to know I can be better at home with my family AND a bigger leader at work.  I was able to share, process and resolve some BIG obstacles that have been in my way through the process that was facilitated by Wanda.

I feel excited to have learned about concepts like living, thinking and behaving above the line.  I am excited to be more aware of responding vs. reacting in my daily life.

I feel grateful to have a deeper appreciation and respect for the art of teaching Yoga.

I feel inspired by the igolu leadership training provided. It actually hit me more effectively than trainings I spent thousands on in my past. I am confidant that with clear personal vision and goals that I will move forward in key areas of my life that are most important to me.

I am delighted to learn a great system of giving and getting feedback.  Keep, Stop, Start!

I am committed to be a positive member of the SHINE Community.

I am inspired by how much I still have to learn but confidant that I will and that I can!

I am humbled and in awe of the brave and beautiful people I spent the week with.  Ariella, Carla , Lisa, Brad, Melissa, Rachel and Raquel.   We arrived with different stories and reasons but left a cohesive community supporting each others greater vision.  (S.O.M.F)

I will leave you with this one question.  Why not you next year?

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I AM NOTHING and it feels amazing!

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I AM NOTHING and it feels amazing!

I am nothing and it feels so damn good. You see, before leadership teacher training I had so many attachments they stuck to me like Post-it notes, and my body was covered.  You know those neon little sticky papers that you stick to things?  Yeah I'm talking about those.  Those post it notes felt like prodding reminders of what I had to be . I had a post it note that looked like “poor me I work too much.”   Another one said “Girl, you need layers of make up and You Tube videos of contouring to make yourself prettier.”   A Post-it note for “stay quiet, your afraid of being heard.” A Post-it that looked like a BIG stack of excuses,  another one that was always being late. Well, honestly all of those Post-it notes felt like a boulder of crap weighing me down.  I felt like I was a lost woman at the age of 32. I wanted to rip those Post-it's off and uncover who is Raquel?  I felt fear, real serious deep down fear.

The very first day of teacher training, we did an exercise that we listed all the things “I am”....  The leaders had us cross off everything that I Do, everything I Believe & everything I Have. THERE WAS NOTHING LEFT ON THE LIST!!!!  I had a breakthrough, if I am not those Post It notes, did they really exist? If the slate is clean and I am pure white nothing, can I create all I want from that?  HOLY SHIFT!

 I couldn't have experienced that shift if I didn't feel supported by the leaders of SHINE and my peers in the training. The breakthrough was simply ; I am nothing. NO THING!  When I am nothing there are no attachment roles, or characters I had to play.  I can just show up as Raquel every day as my authentic self!!!  I am not those post it notes. I am living a COMPLETE life.  WHOA!

Now, I am not saying I do not like a nice Louis Vuitton purse here and there but now I know they don't define me.  I feel FREE! The possibilities for me are endless. I can wear no make up and feel gorgeous.   I can speak from my True North Alignment and be heard.  I can show up on time and have time integrity. I can be a leader. All I have to do is show up as Raquel.  I know I AM ENOUGH.

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Finding Purpose & Meaning in Practice

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Finding Purpose & Meaning in Practice

Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human -Victor E. Frankl

Two years after I separated from the Marine Corps, I was lost in practically every aspect of my life. My marriage had fallen apart, I despised my meaningless job in business and I was in debt up to my neck. Too frequently, I sought false refuge by drinking with Baltimore City cops who were also self-medicating PTSD and anxiety. Having seen death and destruction of war, nowhere felt quite safe anymore, except when I boozed, it took the edge off. Then a game changer, I found yoga and meditation, it found me. Being this big battle-tested tough guy Marine, I found myself a bit conflicted and confronted a series of lingering questions. Should I stick with the story that tough guys shouldn’t do things like yoga, and let others judge or criticize me unfavorably? More deeply, should I allow past traumas, fear of failure, rejection, uncertainty in life to keep me from connecting with myself and others, to keep me from fulfilling my potential?

Ultimately, could I have the courage to shift the course of my life from downward spirals of self- sabotaging, self-doubting beliefs toward an upward path of uncovering my true dharma, duty and place in the world?

starved for authentic experience

Each time I place my body on a mat or a cushion, I set a meaningful intention for my time on it. Importantly, this intention needs to be connected to my deeper values and beliefs, it is the initial spark which becomes a flame that when patiently fueled by breath becomes a strong and balanced fire. When I move and breathe with this fire in my mind and body, it takes root and grows. When I step off the mat and into the world, I carry it with me and extends to those I interact with and connect with.

Two years apart from the Marine tribe, I still polished my medals of valor with a pride-filled false ego and wore invisible armor that hid unseen scars. This only served to isolate me at a time

 

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when I was still stuck in the blood, mud and shit filled streets of Iraq. What happened for me over the last five years has been nothing short of a personal revolution. I can confidently look back and see two major lessons: one, that our experiences of pain and suffering hinge upon our chosen beliefs and destructive habits of mind. If we can gain insight into, then unlearn these maladaptive beliefs, we can alter the presence or severity of our suffering. Two, that with a purposeful, intention filled yoga and meditation practice, new meaning and understanding will unfold naturally in front of us. It falls into our lap almost effortlessly. Our path forward toward what is right and good for us becomes clear and obstacles along the way are navigated with ease. For all of us that have ever felt fractured and lost, this process of finding a new way to be that feels right is a miraculous and rich experience of revival and rebirth.

With the state of western values and culture increasingly dependent on external solutions to internal problems, it comes as no surprise that we are often left with a sense of emptiness and confusion. We’re conditioned to reactively buy, spend and hoard money, acquire material goods and pop pills to quench our thirst for comfort and calm our fears. While this might be functional temporarily, it’s short-sighted and we find ourselves needing another fix once that buzz wears off. All serve as false refuge. So where should we look for true refuge? Your yoga mat and meditation cushion (preferably with the beautiful teachers at SHINE Power Yoga), of course.

If you’re struggling with your purpose in life, job, relationships or just feel stressed all the time but aren't quite sure why, I invite you to share this post with your friends, then bring them along with you for this great practice. During our yoga classes, you will find golden opportunities to mindfully pick and choose all the ingredients you need to build a strong fire and re-connect with a deeper sense of purpose. You’ll not only inspire yourself and find new meaning all around you, but your energy will inspire others to do the same. Through this process our community and culture grow together and shine bright together.

Picasso said “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Last but not least - - I’m very excited to announce that starting Saturday March 26th, SHINE will begin offering another way to deepen and round out your yoga practice with a 60 minute Mindfulness Meditation class! Here, I will lead our weekly sangha (community) with a 20-30 minute sit followed by a guided dharma talk. I look forward to seeing you there.

Namaste. CJ

~ CJ is currently living in South Jersey as an occupational therapist, finishing his 500 hour yoga teacher training under the guidance of Rolf Gates, and serves as a program director for Veterans Yoga Project. You can contact him at captkeller@me.com, or take his weekly Vinyasa class every Saturday at 12p with meditation following at 1:30p at the Maple Shade studio ~ 

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