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.  

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!

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

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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

 

2

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 ~ 

I Can’t Touch My Toes When I’m With You...........

If I can’t touch my toes am I a bad yogi? How about if I can’t put my leg behind my head? Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the class who doesn’t like when the teacher speaks to Possibility. I usually can’t do Possibility very well. Holding Utkatasana for 20 breaths – yeah, I can do that... Tortoise pose? No fucking way can I do a straddle stretch and have my chest reach the floor. When the teacher cues a pose like this, I get so far inside my head it’s ridiculous. I go into judgment mode, I judge myself, and I judge the teacher. This happened today BIG TIME when I took class.

First, I judged myself – “I am a yoga teacher, so why can’t I do this pose? I’m probably not a good teacher because I can’t do it.” Then, I judge the teacher – “why does she cue poses like this? Can’t she see that I can’t do it?” Myself again - “Maybe if I had more time to practice yoga, I could do more advanced poses, but I can’t. I can’t even get to a yoga class during the workday.”All of this came up during a 60 minute practice. WOW!!! Major judgement huh? No wonder I left feeling completely unfulfilled.

Here is where at times I feel confusion. As yoga teachers, aren’t we are supposed to speak to Possibility. Allowing space for students to figure things out? Go deeper or further in an asana and find something new? We don’t’ want our yogis to feel bored or unchallenged. What’s the balance between giving Possibility but not making students feel like shit when they can’t do something the teacher can do? I wonder am I the only one feeling this way?

I know there are students in my classes that are working on Crow Pose (bakasana) – feeling frustrated because they can’t do it. Do I make them feel unfulfilled when I cue it in every practice I teach? I think it’s about me opening the door to Possibility, but just a peak – knowing when it is enough so if someone wants to go inside, they can reach out on their own – open the door and go inside. If they don’t want to, they can stay where they are (and the teacher acknowledges that it’s OK to stay where you are)... My style is to teach the practice in such a way to make everyone feel included. My goal is for every student to leave feeling amazing; satisfied, challenged and accomplished......which is filled with Possibility if you think about it. 

When Your Yoga Practice Has Your Yoga Head Up Your Well Toned Yoga Ass

I walk into the yoga room today ready for my practice. I feel good, my body is strong from all the wheel yoga, I've been eating clean, drinking less alcohol, feel bad ass. Becky calls the first pose Child's Pose, I breathe I feel present. We go through Rag Doll Pose, Sun Salutations, I feel good & begin to sweat quickly. I love hearing Becky's voice she is a strong leader. She calls Side angle pose! Hmmmm....what do I want to do with my arm? Do I want to bind my arm, is my front thigh ok? My back foot feels funny, wait, is that a cobweb on the ceiling?? OK that wasn't easy. Focus Wanda. Next Pose, Flip Dog, well I don't like Flip Dog today. I've been working hard lately so I am not doing that. Wait, did Becky just have us come out and then do it again? What do you mean Flip Dog more than one time, what is she fucking crazy? Oh now Flip Dog to Cheetah Pose? Oh GOD, How long have we been in this class now? Maybe I should take Child's Pose because my body's tired. Maybe I need more water. Boy am I getting on my own nerves, if I was my student, I say get your head out of your ass. Intention, Drishti, Breath!

Chair pose, wait a minute did she say for five breaths? I'm too weak today to hold it for five flippin breaths, I'll just do a different pose, or maybe just Child's Pose. Why am not selling those leg warmers in the retail area? Should I open an eBay store? Do I have time to open an eBay store? Maybe Rachele knows how to open an eBay store? If I open an eBay store can I be present with my kids? Do my kids love me? Ouch, why does my big toe have a cramp? Maybe I should just leave the yoga room right now and go sit at the desk and do work. This practice is worthless. What the hell!!! Your a yoga teacher, just get present breathe and BE! Stay! Drishti! Breathe!

Balancing series, YES, my favorite. Do I feel nauseous? Is my back fat hanging out of my shirt? Is my back fat smaller from all my wheel classes? Dancer pose sucks today! I feel stuck. She just said three dancer poses? But I only want to do two. It is an hour class so why are we doing three? Is the refrigerator door cracked open? The eye towels are going to be warm because the refrigerator doors open. I really want to do Savasana and get a cold eye towel. Oh my god there's 25 minutes left in class. I need coffee. I'm wasting my own time. Why is my head up my ass? You know better than this. Stop thinking! I heard Trader Joe's is selling Sriracha potato chips. If I don't practice I can't eat potato chips. Wait a minute yes I can, potatoes are good for you. Stop thinking! Did she just say Frog Pose? Yeah a Frog Pose, love this one. Oh crap! This doesn't feel good today either. Becky says be still, close your eyes, feel your breath. Shut up Becky. I want coffee & sriracha potato chips...that’s all, not this stupid yoga.

Why am I sharing my head up my ass yoga practice with you? Because I feel exhausted just writing down these thoughts. I gave away so much of my energy with my negative self-talk and I know better!!!!!! I feel it's important to share with my community that I struggle, even though I have practiced for 25 years, I lead teacher trainings and workshops. That this happens sometimes to EVERYONE! So where will I go from here? I go right into my next practice knowing that todays practice doesn't determine my future, it is already my past. I will choose to not look back and eagerly await the next time I roll my mat out and take that first pose Child's Pose. I shared with Becky right after class what was going on, she said, write that down....that is good....let us all in, let us learn Grace from your story. Thank you Becky, I stopped and got my Starbucks Coffee and my Trader Joes Sriracha chips to join me as I write this blog. Perfection is not what I ever desire, authenticity is way more fun!!!!!!!! 

The Scientific Reason why Meditation should be Integrated into your Practice

In case you missed it (ICYMI), we are currently in an exciting period of time known as “the age of the brain”. Maybe I am just biased towards this; I am a graduate student at Rutgers working in a neurobiology lab. Either way, with the advent of BRAIN initiative (costing an estimated $3 billion), I think it is important to educate ourselves about this topic. After all, some of our tax dollars are going to fund this research.

Before I get into the subject of this blog, let me quickly qualify myself and tell you how this blog dea came about. In 2011, I was forced to enter into recovery for the first time for a slew of self destructive behaviors ranging from addiction to extreme exercising. After deciding silver bracelets and anklets were not a good look for me, I entered a rehab facility where I was diagnosed with addiction, PTSD, anorexia, depression, ADD, GAD, and OCD (I think that’s it?).

I was pretty mentally f*cked up and was incapable of making sound decisions.
It was recommended in this facility that I start practicing yoga and meditation in order to be successful in the real world and a functioning human being. Of course I didn’t listen, at first. After a couple years of relapse and misery and trying things my way, I decided that I may actually be wrong (hard to believe, I know) and began to incorporate meditation into my “recovery tool box”.

Meditation turned out to be a game changer, so much so that I felt the need to buy a ridiculously priced meditation pillow. After one meditation session, I was able to find what I had been looking for this whole time. This lead to me yoga and then to this amazing/beautiful SHINE community.

Sometime during the summer, our fearless leader Wanda told all of us who work here to write a blog on the topic of their choosing. Being a type A perfectionist, I had to come up with an amazing topic. After a crazy first semester teaching demanding students while working on my thesis/publication that I began to realize the benefits that yoga and meditation provided for me. Of course being a scientist, I wanted to explore whether or not yoga and meditation have been researched by neuroscientists. After conducting a quick search, there are scores of articles about both topics. Rather than give you guys a headache and try to decipher the jargon that us egomaniac scientists love to use, I will KISS (another of my many challenges).

One of the first people to scientifically test the effects of meditation and mindfulness was Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar. In her first study, she compared long term meditation practioners and yogis to a control group who never meditated. What she found was that the long term meditators had increased gray matter in specific regions of the brain and they either had stronger or weaker neuronal connections between them.

That is the scientific reason as to why meditation works. Science also recently began conducting similar studies in regards to yoga practice and the results are quite similar.

Although science may have proposed a mechanism for how meditation and yoga are helpful, does it actually work? From my personal experience, the answer is a resounding yaaaasssssss!!! Here is how (in relation to the scientific findings):

*Meditation has placed my PTSD into remission (along with other methods) and I can definitely attribute my low dose of antidepressants to meditation. Thanks increased gray matter!

*I am no longer on anxiety medications, don’t overreact to situations (most of the time). This is especially true in my relationships with other people. Meditation has allowed me to become calm and therefore present to my reactions.The stronger connection between regions of my brain allows me to pause and think before I act and understand others in a way I was incapable of. I believe a big reason I am capable of getting along with difficult people at work and being non-reactive of others is because of my meditation and yoga practice.

*Meditation and finding breath in yoga allows me to think rationally through difficult situations where my brain tells me the only way out is something destructive. I can meditate on the problem and think of a solution rather than feel stuck.

*Meditation and yoga allow me to UNBECOME all of the things I told myself I have to be. This is life changing. The water pourer at the sweat lodge I go to as well as my yogi friend Capt CJ Keller always talk about how these practices allow us to unlearn behaviors that no longer serve us. Meditation breaks down my old beliefs in order to become my true self.

This past December. One of my students was literally freaking out that she was going to fail the class because she had a 71 average. I suggested to her to do a guided meditation every day before the final exam. After 7 days of meditation, my student was able to get a 96 on her final and end up with a B in the class.

If you don't know how to start your meditation journey, your next Savasana or YouTube are great places to start. YouTube offers a plethora of short guided meditations that I have found to be useful. To me it seems pretty obvi as to why meditation is so important; I say try it!!! The worst thing that happens is that you wasted 10 - 30 minutes of your life, which is NBD, right?! 

The Secret

This past month has been so much fun, knowing that the Leadership Team @ SHINE Power yoga has a secret they can not wait to share with our community. We love to have fun, we really love surprises and we mostly love to get people talking. I think that is evident, that we are a community willing to take risks, put it out there raw for everyone to see and we keep it REAL...... Like us or hate us, we have a Vision and it drives us.

This past summer while in Ocean City reading on the beach, I was preoccupied and constantly thinking of this quote from Baron Baptiste’s book Being of Power (my personal favorite). I underlined it, highlighted it, wrote it about 10 times, it meant something different to me all of a sudden.

“The path of transformation has no end. It’s a profound, lifelong commitment to moving up to something bigger.”

I began to meditate on this. Now you see when I meditate, many times it leads into my prayers. I hear God’s voice strongest when I am able to actually sit and listen. Sometimes he speaks to me and I actually hear His voice, other times I will feel sensations in my body (triggers) and my intuition becomes very strong, leading me where I am to go. During meditation I kept hearing this word VISIONARY. I began to research the word. The simple definition is “a person thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom, typically a leader”. WHAT? Shut the front door....... I wanna be that!

Sarah and I had been playing around for a bit on this Yoga Wheel that we bought online. We first heard of it when Becky Kain brought one to class, immediately thinking YES that thing is awesome! We began watching Instagram videos and bringing it to class with us, always striving for the next space in our pose or body. It was about taking our personal practice to another level, many times going with your INTUITION & being a VISIONARY for your yoga practice.

I noticed there was alot of excitement and interest in the wheel from other students too. NOW my brain gets all fired up and I am thinking, How can SHINE offer this to everyone? How can SHINE create its own wheel? How can SHINE have a Yoga Wheel Schedule? How can SHINE be a Visionary in this?

We had no luck with the first two companies we contacted to develop these SHINE Yoga Wheels (cost, time, manpower, etc). Then we saw Yoloha Yoga Company is launching a cork yoga wheel and Yoloha Yoga Company is a very strong supporter of our Vinyasa for Vets program. I met the owner, Chris and he is an outstanding innovative human.....I am thinking, this could work out! It only took one email and the wheel production was in place. He was able to put our SHINE Power Yoga Logo on each Wheel and get them to me in record time. I

I am so excited to be able to support his vision and his company at the same time we make our Vision for a SHINE Yoga Wheel Program happen.

January 18, 2016 our SHINE Yoga Wheel Program will launch! We begin with five trained teachers in our own SHINE Yoga Wheel Sequence and we know this is just the beginning of something BIG. To be the first feels good, to be a Visionary feels good, to bring excitement and growth to our South Jersey Yoga Community feels amazing.

I love how much we are learning in the process. I love the support our team has for each others vision. I remember a time in my life I lived inside a black box with walls and padded with my comfort zone. It feels vibrant and alive to create and bust out of the box, dive into the unknown and do what I am most passionate about! Namaste’ 

Enough

I asked Amy, a fellow yoga teacher and remarkable photographer to take pictures of me in yoga poses sans clothing for three reasons:

1.     I thought it would be liberating (it was)

2.     I’ve worked hard to come to terms with my body.

3.     I want to start a conversation.

 

The conversation? Inner dialogue.

Our inner dialogue is the sum total of our beliefs and thoughts. It’s the language we use with ourselves. Sometimes, it's the dialogue we don’t want anyone to find out about. Ever.

I’ve degraded, injured, starved, intoxicated, used and dishonored by body for years through the dialogue I had with myself.

“You don’t look like her,” said the voice in third grade when the skinny blonde ran across the playground. I was a chubby brunette. Shy. “You’re not cool like her.”

I grew up and fell in love with soccer. It made my body feel strong and purposeful. When many knee surgeries took me out of the game, the depreciative voices grew louder. “Your body is useless. You have nothing to offer anymore. No one likes you. You're not pretty enough. Oh, and you're not smart either.”

I kept feeding this dialogue and eventually had to shut it up, so I took charge by starving myself and binging/vomiting. The control and emotional release actually worked- for a second. I didn’t know these behaviors would flame the fire of my voices, and therefore, my actions.

More! Drinking and blacking out.

More!  Drugs and overdose.

More! I’ll do anything to escape until it kills me.

Thankfully, it didn’t kill me. It hurt me and everyone in my path, but the vicious voices were tamed. I attribute a legal detox and firm, loving parents throwing me back into a treatment center. I attribute a twelve-step organization. I attribute yoga and breath. I attribute divine intervention. I attribute that one voice I’d be hushing that said, “Enough.”

I’ve heard many psychologically and medically sound reasons as to what was wrong with me and many solutions and self-help phrases to get me well. Nothing stuck until I had one moment when I took a deep breath and the chatter died down just a little bit for me to hear, “Enough.”

So what’s this writing about? It’s about choosing the voice that we listen to. I tell my students that our words become our lives, so I work to choose my words wisely.

One of my most beloved mentors calls the destructive inner dialogue “Leroy.” She tells me to say, “Fuck off Leroy!” when that voice tunes up. Trust me friends, saying this is a very spiritual response.

I still have to re-choose my thoughts everyday. Thankfully, I have many tools. One monumental tool is yoga. On my mat, I am able to create space for choice through breath and asana.

My gratitude is for everyone and everything that’s helped quiet my dialogue. My gratitude is in being able to finally hear, “Enough.”

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.”

 

-Ghandi

 

 

 

The Art of Letting Go

Right behind my house is a small building. From the outside it may look like any garage, filled with old gardening tools, a lawn mower and miscellaneous do dads. But when you open the french doors you walk into an open room. There’s a high ceiling finished in wood slats. Two skylights that let the afternoon sun fill the room. The whitest white walls come down to beige tile floors. This is my shop.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m an artist. When my creative button is turned on, this is the place I am on my days off. My husband built this space for me as a my own art shop. It’s funny, that it’s here i’ve learned most of the lessons we speak so much of in a yoga class.

Imagine a lovely fall evening, we could be having one now so you may just have to look out the window to see it. I’ve been in my shop for the past 8 hours, working on a section of a collage. Now the thing about my collage work is that I use catalogs for my paper. Anthopologie & Free People to be specific. My Mom, friends and other family save their catalogs for me too. Even so, I usually only ave 2 -3 of each catalog. So when I find a few pages with a pattern or color that I like, I have a VERY limited amount to work with. Moreover, once a piece of paper is cut and glued down, that’s it. There’s no moving it. There’s no trying again.  There’s no using it someplace else.

For 3 of the past 8 hours I’ve been working on one section. Carefully cutting and glueing. Everything is in this 4 x 4 inch space. I make sure every piece is laid with precision and is in line with the image as a whole.   There was also the hours it took me the previous day of flipping though the mass of saved catalogs I have to FIND this color and pattern, which goes with all the OTHER colors and patterns I have found to make up this one image.  Not only do the colors and patterns have to go together, but there has to be ENOUGH of each one to fill a section. So if there isn’t enough I have to go BACK through the piles of catalogs and find SIMILAR colors & patterns to complete the section. 

I stop, take few steps back and a sip of beer. This is when the thought come into my head….

“Meh….” 

Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck. It doesn’t work. Maybe I can MAKE it work. 

I spend another hour cutting and glueing. Step back, more beer. 

Nope.

I am now standing in a spot I have been in many times. I have put so much effort into this one thing. Wether that thing is a section of a collage, an assumption about a friend or a co-worker, a political statement, a religious belief.  Experience has now proven me wrong. What do I do? Do I hold on just because I’ve put so much effort in? And you know what, it HAS been a lot of effort. 

I feel fatter because I haven’t worked out. Nothing has has been put away in my house and I haven’t done any laundry. The “yoga” smell from my laundry basket has permeated everything in my bathroom. And at this moment there is nothing but condiments, liquids and artisanal pickles in my refrigerator. I mean they’re fuckin’ delicious, but do you have ANY idea how hard it is to make dinner out of that?!  Everything else Sacrificed because I was working on this one thing, all of this because I put all of my energy here. To make THIS one image whole.  And now, this one thing now has the AUDACITY to not hold true. Well FUCK that. Its gonna Work damn it. EVERYTHING else is just gonna have to shift. 

I’ve worked too hard.

I grab my beer bottle with a dramatic flourish, that’s really only for myself, and storm out of my shop. Slamming the lights off and the door shut.

I almost immediately stop and feel silly.  You know those inspirational memes people share on Facebook all the time?  Most of my friends on Facebook are yoga teachers so my feed is lousy with them. Every other post I see is something meant to spark your inner fire, but for me, they mostly fall into a cliché mush.  So when one pops into my head, sunset over the sea background image and all, I stop. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” 

Damn it.  Yes, even I rolled my eyes at my brain for conjuring this image.  But even in my mini rage, the message can’t be denied. 

I turn my feet around on the short path between my house and my shop and walk back. I open the door, turn on the lights and sit down on the floor. All around me are my piles of catalogs. I open the nearest one to me and start flipping through. I gotta find a new truth for that section of me. A new pattern, a new color, a new thought. 

It’s not the thought of my whole image being better that stopped me before. Its the work that proceeds it. The thought of sitting right here, on the cold, beige tile floor for hours on end finding what works. The thing is, I DO always find what works, I just have to be willing to let go of what doesn’t.

CLICK THOUGH FOR PROGRESS

 

 

 

 

Life After The Hamster Ball

Picture a hamster in a ball, sprinting through the world, bumping into life, coloring the interior with vibrant colors, rolling off ledges and hysterically laughing as she glides on her back, paws up, squealing triumphantly: reckless, fearless and joyous. Safe to view the world through her opaque walls…

This hamsters name is Amy, safe in my ball to be the real me…

Once upon a time, I was a one year old that drove my mother crazy, climbing out of my crib to sit on top of my sisters tall dresser. A toddler who would ride sleeping bags as sled’s down the steps, and a child who'd pop wheelies on my bike and flips on my skateboard.  No one ever accused me of being boring. Yes, I kept everyone on their toes. 

As I grew up, I realized not everyone appreciated the REAL Amy. Not everyone could handle the spontaneity of unfiltered silliness and so I created a safe zone…my hamster ball.  But adult life with afamily and careers cant really be lived in a ball so I compensated. I expanded my ball, letting select people in, or stepping out and building a filter to fit in.  While Reckless in my safe zone, as my sister put it, I was a deer in headlights out of it. I’d find myself not breathing out of my comfort zone and retreat back to the safety of my ball when overwhelmed. 

Then yoga came into my life…

My first power yoga class was a fundraiser for Africa Yoga Project. One of my best friends offered the opportunity one night to try it, it must've been the wine that made me say YES. As I lay on my mat the next morning in class, with the room slightly spinning, sweaty immediately from the humidity and surrounded by strangers,  I honestly thought to myself I'd better say a prayer that I don't die.
I got through most of the class playing Monkey-See-Monkey-Do. Then the teacher cued to begin back bending, I planted my hands on the mat and pushed up into wheel and emphatically said to my girl "Ohhhh, I did it!" I didn’t realize how loud the words flowed out, then the entire class met me with an equally emphatic cheers. In that wheel I reminded myself of a 12 year old Amy in her hamster ball: reckless, fearless, joyous. Day One and I was hooked.

When I entered teacher training 2 years later, I did it for me. I wanted to expand my practice and set forth on the river of self inquiry. I had no expectations for fitting in but figured that I could compensate enough to be thrust from my comfort zone and survive.  However, through teacher training and mentorship, I was accused of hiding.  I thought that the "filter" I created (because I certainly wasn't born with one) was perfectly crafted... but that damn thing was as opaque as my hamster ball.  The people surrounding me wanted to meet the REAL Amy, and I was too afraid to show them.  I honestly believed that the REAL Amy was too silly, loud, artistic, probably inappropriate and definitely not good enough to be a yogi.  I considered running back to my ball more times then I care to share, but each time I knew my path would be blocked by the amazing women who wanted me to grow.  I am so thankful that, as she appeared, they never flinched at the real Amy, only loved, and gave me the kick in the ass I needed to just accept myself as I am, knots and all.  I was perfectly Amy and deserved to shine.  They showed me how we are ALL vulnerable, imperfect, unique and beautiful. 

What I am coming to accept on my yoga path of 2015 is that my hamster ball is not a safe zone.  Indeed it is a prison with walls made of fear.  I recognize that for too many years, I hid myself away; afraid of what the world would think of the real me.  For too many years, I feared not being good enough.  For too many years I turned my back on my authentic self.

Well...fuck that noise.  Life is to short to hide. 

Let me share the knowledge that FEAR SUCKS.  It has held me back from being my best and crushed my joyous spirit.  You, like me, have vibrant colors and the world deserves to see them.  So please, don't hide yourself away in a hamster ball.  Be brave.  Step out.  Look around.  Breathe.  Then speak with your inner joyous child and love her for who she is...because she's amazing. Be reckless, and find fearless again, because when you come from love, those that accept you will FAR out weigh the ones that don’t. 

At Cause for BIG things!

Everything is changing. I am a thirty four year old women with much ambition and thirsty for life. I love learning new things. Different but wonderful things are accruing in almost all aspects of my life. One big change happened when I found meditation three years ago. Meditation opened up a new world to me that previously was asleep. Its like I woke up from a long deep sleep. My meditation practice helped me change my perspective in a more positive way.   I allowed me to see a clear vision to where chaos shows up in my life. For example: I have two beautiful children, a girl who is 12 and a boy who is 7. They add to the cause of chaos but they also keep me grounded at the same time. School has started so all of there activities are in full swing (chaos). I love watching and cheering them on when I’m free (grounded). I work to cook a great home cooked meal (chaos) and we all sit together, talk together and find time for a nice bike ride (grounded). 

Another BIG change for me happened this past february,  I enrolled in my 200 hour Power Yoga Teacher Training, OOMG what a transformation of ME. I went from a shy, insecure woman with not much of a voice (chaos),  to being more strong, powerful and full of life (grounded). I also met some pretty awesome people along the way, (my fellow teacher trainees.) I committed to this whole process to live outside of my comfort zone and to challenge myself in places of chaos. Today, I feel proud of how much I have grown, I have not only learned how to teach yoga, but use the computer, pick out music, turn up the heat, and BE a part of a wonderful community. I learned to kick out the insecure woman with no voice.  Another BIG change was I became open to knowing EVERYTHING in life is a learning process, and it happens just as it should, even the chaotic and hard moments.  

Putting this to the test came sooner rather than later.  This past July one of our family dogs passed away suddenly from cancer, we didn’t know she had. I felt intense sadness to have to put her down. Her death forced me to realize just how precious life is, I once again felt reminded to not take my life for granted and get grounded. Recently during one of my yoga practices the song LIVE Like You Were Dying came on. It really landed deep within me. I loved that dog and so did my family. Her death had a huge impact on all of us.  Were we all LIVING fully right now, in the sadness of her loss?  So in august I started searching for a new dog, deciding to take a BIG step forward. I felt nervous but excited about this decision because its like opening up to a brand new baby, loving fully all over again. Well wefound her! An 11 week old pit bull that our family has fallen head over heels for and her name is Charlotte.

Just when you think you are all finished with BIG changes another one comes.  I have been married to Rich for 14 years.  For our entire marriage my husband has worked shift work as a police/K9 officer. Shift work is hard on families because its long hours, nights and weekends.  When he is off he needs to sleep odd hours. I had to take on most of the responsibility for family life with his schedule so erratic.  Last month we found out he made Detective and that everything is about to shift and change. His new schedule is Monday to Friday administrative schedule.  This will dramatically change how we show up as parents.   We will share responsibility for the kids schedule, a full on partnership.  This is also new for our marriage relationship as we will see each other more.  I feel Happiness and Love.

I am learning and feel open to CHANGE.  Some are difficult and some are so wonderful and make me smile. There is balance in this, there is purpose in this, there is freedom in this.  I have opened myself up to these changes through mediation and hard work.  This life is more then I imagined for myself and I am grateful to God for Grace and for providing me with so much.