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An Apology

In my limited world of social media (let’s face it – we’re really only friends with those people that think exactly the same as we do), a recent post on the ridiculous eating habits of health and lifestyle ‘guru’ Amanda Chantal Bacon, owner of the exclusive high brow brand, Moonjuice, sent my Facebook like reputation off the charts. While I stand by my position that her daily routine is reserved exclusively for those with boatloads of money and too much time on their hands, as the snide comments kept coming, I wondered why I felt the need to ignite such vitriol. Admittedly, my ego enjoyed seeing my social media status soar. Yet, I do not consider it my finest moment.

Which begs the question: are we only ‘liked’ or ‘loved’ when we ridicule others or offer inciting commentary that disconnects us further? I’ve noticed when I have something meaningful to say (from my perspective) or try to promote offerings on meditation or insightful teachings, my social media stats are not nearly as impressive. Why is it that our most applauded posts are the ones that encourage us to divide? Despite Facebook’s claim that it brings us closer in community, does social media reduce us to our lowest common denominator and at its core, make us a more shallow and divisive society? I argue yes. Yes it does.

There’s very little ‘listening’ happening on social media. How can we listen when words aren’t actually spoken? We can’t hear intonation, cadence or emotion through the pecks of a keyboard. There’s a lot of reacting back and forth as we tend to, as the old ones used to say, fire off at the mouth. There’s a lot of opinion flying around. And remember, opinions are like assholes – everybody has one. Apologies for the crudeness, but it’s a very appropriate turn of phrase in this case.

Thoughtful dialogue and debate seems to have flown the coop. No matter how insidious the rhetoric becomes, slaying swords is not the answer. Yet, social media is not really the breeding ground for thoughtful conversation. I myself don’t take social media too seriously. Admittedly, I often am flippant in my posts. It is not where I offer my highest intellectual offerings or insightful ponderings. Yet, it’s where most of us are spending our time. What does that say about our culture (myself included)? Should we shift? Can we shift? Or is it a beast that will continue to drive our daily patterns and habits? An addiction gone terribly awry?

I don’t have the answer but I think it’s worth asking the questions. At the very least, we can be more aware and conscious how we utilize social media. I can’t promise I’ll never write a snide or insensitive comment on social media or be an exemplary embodiment of peace, love and unicorns. I will however, do my best to rise above the social media sludge that seems to be dragging society down. And it starts with an apology to Ms. Bacon. Yes, I have an opinion and it hasn’t changed. I still find your daily health habits ridiculously unattainable for the average (even the above average) woman and concur with the NY Times  pegging you as a lifestyle guru selling self absorption. But I bet I’d like you and be able to tell that to you to your face.

In Defense Of Yoga

Oops, I did it again. I’m having flashbacks to a couple of years ago when I expressed my opinion of a popular fitness ‘method’ on Twitter. It roused fiery criticism similar to what I’ve seen regarding my recent Facebook post. I commented on one of the latest trends to hit the yoga world called ButiYoga. Based on a 30 second sizzle real that depicted little more than LuLu Lemon sporting, bare midriff exposing, young, fit and Caucasian ladies gyrating and bouncing their hips I concluded that, while cute, it bared little semblance to what I have come to know as yoga over the past 17 years of practice and teaching. Cue the onslaught of criticisms and condemnations from the Buti world. In no uncertain terms, I was tagged as judgmental, insecure and hypocritical (since I myself can be seen on many DVD covers baring my midriff and ‘Sweating Sexy.’) I was told my chakras needed aligning and that I’m not yogic. While I refuse to engage in quick to fire, insidious battles on Facebook, I am happy to write non-reactive, contemplative and judicious blogs to lend my voice to thoughtful debate and meaningful discourse away from social media. This is what follows.

Please do not confuse my opinion of ButiYoga with judgment. I judge none of you for your practice or what joy, peace and freedom you find from Buti. Nor did I write any disparaging remarks about you, or ButiYoga’s creator, Bizzie Gold, personally. I expressed my beliefs merely out of a frustration with the proliferation of fad throughout both the fitness and yoga industries and the commoditization of an ancient tradition that no one can patent or brand. Bikram tried. It didn’t work. So did John Friend. His ‘system’ collapsed as it depended on a leader whose ego overshadowed the teachings. From my point of view, yoga – as it is outlined in scriptures such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhaghavad Gita – is a systematic approach to personal and spiritual freedom and fulfillment. Out of 196 Sutras, only three discuss any physical practice as a means to achieve these.

I am not saying yoga defined by spiritual texts is the only way, or even the best way for people to find fulfillment and joy in their lives. My true fear is that as we slap the word ‘yoga’ on every new system, program, regime and concept developed by someone with some insight and creativity, we lose the ancient wisdom and teachings that only can be translated and transmitted from teacher to student. As these new ‘methods’ become more and more popular, less and less seem of us to be interested in a system that needs no improvement, but does demand a lifetime of study, dedication and commitment to personal practice. Proven methodologies and tools that can only be learned from masters of a tradition – not a book or a 200-hour teacher training. Ones that were not made up on some yoga mat or dance floor, but ‘seen’ by sages and swamis dedicated to the practice of spiritual enlightenment and freedom from the confines of the material world. By no means am I suggesting we need to hide out in caves and become renunciates to progress on our spiritual path. But we can – and should – learn from the wisdom of others who selflessly commit their lives to understanding the truth of Divinity and graciously share their understanding with others. Connection to a living lineage imbues one’s practice with grace and protection. There is a reason yoga, despite the Western’s worlds attempt to minimize and morph it to a physical workout or a new age spiritual tool, has lasted for thousands of years. Yes, the teachings may be ancient, but they are also timeless. Because Truth is timeless and needs no improving. Truth trumps trend. Always.

I’m curious to see if people will be practicing ButiYoga 1,000 years from now. Hell, I would like to see if people are still practicing 20 years from now. Tradition requires the test of time to be considered valid by a majority. If Buti lives on past the life of its creator, I will happily eat my words. I’m banking I’ll still be alive to see it fizzle.

I am also of the strong belief that a 200-hour training is simply not enough to send qualified yoga instructors out into the world. I’ll be the first to say, I shouldn’t have been teaching yoga as early as I was. I had no clue what I didn’t know. We don’t let lawyers or doctors loose after a few hundred hours of training. Maybe once we view yoga as the powerful and radical life-changing tool it is and not the exercise du jour, we’ll consider bumping up the requirements.

I do not believe yoga cannot evolve. With regards to the safety of asana, I am a firm believer that yoga should take some cues from the intelligent movement and physical therapy realm to create a more stable and strong practice. Namely because yoga was not created to help the physical body thrive. Thousands of years ago, the gentleman practicing asana were not really learned in the musculoskeletal system or how to stabilize joints. It’s one of the reasons we see a proliferation of students being hurt by current yoga classes. Yoga’s power and purpose reside in creating monumental shifts in the mind. Asana can be a tool, but those who created asana were not body masters – they were mind masters.

I’d also like to speak to the professed ‘kundalini awakenings’ women are claiming to have in class. This exemplifies the simplification of the spiritual teachings and the widespread misunderstanding of kundalini shakti that makes me cringe every time I see someone selling it. Rarely does a true kundalini awakening happen from some hip swivels, banging on the pelvic floor and contraction of the anus. That’s called aggrevation. True kundalini awakening requires a systematic and methodical approach – one best provided through the guidance of a learned and wise teacher who has dedicated his or her life to the teachings and can help their student properly channel awakened energy through the pathway of the spine. (Also known as sushumna.) While I will not deny many women may have likely had a sensual, profound and overwhelming energetic experience from ButiYoga, I would argue kundalini awakening is being confused with kundalini disturbance. My teacher once said something brilliant (he says a lot of brilliant things) – It’s not that She (kundalini shakti) is asleep – She’s already awake. She’s just waiting for you to become fit enough for her to reveal herself. And he didn’t mean physically fit.

On that note, many suggested that I am not supporting women or their empowerment and the rise of the Divine Feminine. Believe me, I hear you sisters. Loud and clear. Much of the turmoil and fear that currently exists in our country, and the world, is due to a blatant disregard of the Divine Feminine and her inherent beauty and power. Preach. However, let us not refuse our male counterparts in this awakening for She is not only found in women, but in men alike. She is the force and energy that gives and sustains all life. She is pervasive and all inclusive. We are adding fuel on a raging fire if we neglect to spread this message to a male audience. If you are interested in having a deep and meaningful understanding and connection to the Divine Feminine, I would guide you to someone like Sally Kempton or Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and their work. Both have dedicated their lives to the teachings of Yoga, Tantra and the brilliance and beauty of Her.

Moving on. When I asked what students of ButiYoga are doing #offthemat, I did not mean to insinuate that the women who attend and teach this class are shallow or only concerned with the shape of their bodies or appearance. Clearly many of you are empowered and thriving young women with a strong voice positively contributing to society. I was simply asking what kind of spiritual tools you possess and utilize outside of class? Meditation? Kriyas? Pranayama? Is there a dedicated personal practice outside of the group dynamic? Again, it is easy to fall into a disagreement based on differing ideas and definitions of yoga, so I’ll end it there.

I have studied and worked in the fitness, dance and yoga communities for twenty years. I’ve personally experienced how each discipline can enhance and support each other. There are principles of yoga I apply to fitness and dance, such as the breath, and vice versa. However, they all serve different functions. Fitness keeps my physical body strong and prepared for all life throws my way – whether that be a dance class or a hike or to sit comfortably in meditation for an extended period of time. Dance is my outlet for creative – and yes, at times, sexual, expression. Free movement and dance helps me communicate in a way I often find difficult with words. And yes, at times, it certainly connects me to a Divine experience. Yoga has made me a happier, stronger and more confident woman. Yoga has given me peace and clarity. Yoga has single handily changed my perspective of the world. Yoga guides every moment of every day of my life. But my fitness is fitness and my yoga is yoga. The two have very different aims. According to the Mundaka UpanishadBrahman is the target, Atma is the arrow and Aum is the bow. In other words, the sound of the all-pervading truth of creation (also known as pranava) is the means by which the self unites with the Divine. Not moving the body.

As for Bizzie – I’ve done as you all suggested and watched some of her videos. I really like her and love her message – especially the part about cultivating a coaching or teacher-student relationship sans co-dependence. The self help world needs more of that. I resonate with much of what she advocates. As a mother, an entrepreneur and woman, I respect the hell out of her. She’s beautiful and sassy. I bet I’d like her a lot. However, and I think this is the crux of where the misunderstanding lies, her message is directed at a very different audience than mine. I’ll estimate the median age of those who commented on my feed is 32. Her website states it loud and clear – she is the voice of a Millenial generation. Out of the many labels you can slap on me, Millenial is not one of them. Bizzie speaks to a population I don’t relate to. An age group that writes paragraphs and novels on Facebook and converses in emojis and acronyms. One that is used to the immediacy of texting and constant communication. A population that relies on the interaction social media offers and uses it as a huge platform to congregate and unite. For me, it’s just not that deep. While I use social media for marketing and creating a brand and a voice, I tend not to put a lot of stock in its activity. Even my own comments. I guess that makes me officially old.

All this being said, I’d be happy to take a Buti class. Hell, I may even enjoy it and have some sort of transcendent experience. But I’m pretty sure I will still walk out of the room reluctant to call it yoga.

I feel no need to respond to all the personal criticisms hurled at me. Fire away. I’ve had my own path, and just like Bizzie has said of her life, my own struggles and demons to overcome. I’m proud of the person I’ve become and have the utmost faith and trust in my work and what I teach. We all may be a little guilty of hurling karmic arrows.

I do not apologize for my opinion, but I do apologize if anyone feels personally offended by it. I still am hopeful that after the dust has settled we can all look at each other with love and a smile and agree to disagree. Even better, I’d welcome a public discussion with Bizzie and maybe we can help our individual generations understand each other with a little more compassion.

I hope some of what I have written addresses the reason for my FB comment and appropriately responds to some of your reactions. At the end of the day, I consent with one observation on that thread – it’s all yoga. Every disagreement, every opinion – every moment of every day. If we are willing to look at each and every circumstance in our life as an opportunity to grow and find more peace, joy and contentment in our own hearts, then we are living life on the path of yoga.

Hari Om.

Oh, Fear.

Today in the cab the fear set in. I believe it took its familiar seat in my heart in the morning but during my cab ride into town, sans connectivity to the electronic world to distract me, it made itself known and continued to expand like a ferocious virus. Inside the solitary confinement of a vehicle fear gripped my mind and ran with it. The cycle of thoughts that have been plaguing me since my arrival in Sri Lanka dominated any faith I had in the future to the point of tears. I couldn’t sit in traffic another moment. For ten minutes which seemed like 10 days, that cab was my personal prison.

A kind soul had granted me access to an amazing hotel to sit poolside and stare at the ocean, swim in the lap worthy salt pool and relax. That’s where I was headed. Instead of feeling giddy with excitement at this generous invitation, I was sad. What was wrong with me?

Almost eight weeks after I departed Austin, this trip can no longer be considered an escape or vacation. While I didn’t feel like I was running from anything in particular back home, maybe I was. From my fear of the unknown. The answer to “what’s next”?

Coming to a pool and chilling by the Indian Ocean felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford. Figuratively and literally. I have no job right now. No consistent source of income. And yet I know I can’t go back to doing the same thing I was doing.

While I can see what lies before me, as I mentioned in my last post, I have no clue how to get there. Or, like a mirage in the middle of the desert, if it’s even a real.

I don’t want to struggle any more. Even though I know these past three months will be remembered as nothing less than priceless treasures and, logistically, everything has gone relatively smoothly (i.e. No major medical catastrophes other than a minor tooth procedure) I’ve wrestled with enough struggle in the past 7 weeks to last me a while. Both internally and externally.

While money may not buy happiness it sure can make a bumpy ride a bit more comfortable. It can buy conveniences. Things like air conditioning. A nice hotel. Taking a cab wherever, whenever I feel like it no matter the cost. Good clean healthy food. Turns out, not unlike the States, vegetables are more expensive than rice and carbs here but to such an extent that they are not found on any menu in abundance. A premise I have that is confirmed when I receive lunch. I order ceviche – a “Tower of avocado, fresh seafood ceviche, micro greens, mango and pineapple”. It arrives and I see no “tower”. Just a tiny scoop of some sort of tasteless fish with mayo and an inch of diced avocado. All to the tune of $12. Not a grand sum of money I understand but considering it would have required I eat no less than five of them to fill the tank, it could have been considered a $50 meal. I request cucumber and carrot sticks, something even a local bar in the states can accommodate for relatively cheap and I get handful of cabbage with small slivers of carrot and cuke. I’m starved so I gobble my seafood sampler and resort to something I’ve gotten used to taking more than I’d like – bread and butter.

I re-read this well aware I sound like a whiney five year old stomping her feet because she wanted chocolate and all they had was vanilla. But when you are wrestling with fear and worry and anxiety and hunger and constipation, the struggles feel real. You crave ease, comfort and access to a small trust fund.

The crashing waves offered a small respite from my mind –  assurance that everything will be just fine.

But as I pay my bill, the saltwater pouring from my eyes is a not too subtle reminder that no amount of external comfort or beauty will offer me peace today. It is something I have to find for myself.

Money may buy comfort and assurance. However, usually, such ease comes at the sacrifice of growth and learning. I try to remember this today and every day here on the road.

Hello India.

It’s my first day in India and already I’m experiencing some backlash. For a month, I couldn’t wait to get here. Now I find myself in a hotel in New Delhi that immediately makes me miss home (I knew I should have ponied up the extra $60 for the J.W.Marriott, damnit). Although, by Indian monetary standards, this place isn’t necessarily cheap. The photos always look nicer on the website, don’t they?

I’m forced to listen to a loud screaming Indian man either above or next to me (I’m unsure which as it seems to be coming from all directions). I’m watching myself get super uncomfortable. There’s this perpetual haze in the air here. In the hotel, it’s the residue of some awful artificial air freshener they insist on spraying everywhere. Outside, I’m assured by a local, it’s just smog. Delhi smog makes Los Angeles look like a freshly Windex-ed window. Either way, fresh, clean air is not available and my eyes have trouble adjusting to the pervasive fog. And my nose, the odd scent.

My room is somewhat stale and musty, with just a hint of a previous smoker, even though I’m assured it’s a non-smoking room. Probably the reason for the orange Renuzit scent.

My laptop seems to be having trouble connecting which frustrates me. I want to see photos, connect to the home I know. The one in which less than 36 hours ago, I woke up. The one with the awesome bed and open window evening cool. What’s the temperature in Austin?

Oh shit, I have a DVD to send.
I have to post a blog.

For the past month I’ve felt pulled to my mat yet this morning, it takes a little more coaxing to sit for meditation. As if I’m resisting something. All I could think was coffee.
Computer.

Can I unlock my iPhone? 
Where’s my routine? 
No hot water with lemon? 

I manage to maintain a few morning rituals. Tongue scrape. Net pot (yes, with bottled water). The important things. Eventually I sit. And I know I’m that much closer to the purpose of my trip. All is well.

Until I go to breakfast.

No kale???
Where are my veggies? 

Can a girl get some avocado? 
How about a dairy milk alternative? 

OMG will this man PLEASE SHUT UP?!?

Hands down it is the worst coffee I can remember.

Is this guy SINGING now?

There is something increasingly aggravating about loud voices in a foreign language. Much more so than the same annoying tone in your native tongue.

Like a child who misses his blanket, I have a strong desire for my blender and some decent espresso. Bullet proof coffee.

At least I have dark chocolate, which I will try to ration like Matt Damon allocated potatoes in that movie I watched on the flight here. That puts things in perspective.

Ahhhhhh, finally. Sweet silence. But my tummy is feeling a little funky.

How You Know You’re Ready For India

You know how you’re ready to pack your bags and head to your spiritual home? You have no tolerance for bullshit. I used to have some. Very very little mind you, but enough to put up with day to day niceties. Now, I’m at the end of my nicety rope. Please don’t ask me how my packing is going. If you want to engage in honest and meaningful conversation, I’m down. But I’m getting ready to start a new life. One that includes a zero tolerance policy on bullshit, implemented immediately. Here’s a suggestion: ask me how I feel about leaving the country with no job and no immediate prospects for the foreseeable future. Or how I feel about leaving a city I’ve, albeit tentatively, grown quite a fondness for. Or what I’m afraid of. (Quite a bit by the way.) That’s a worthy use of my time. I’ll always take time out of my day for genuine human connection. Otherwise, I’m busy. You know, packing and shit.

If you ask me how I am, you better be ready for an honest answer. If not, I give you permission to simply walk on by. We don’t have to  have the awkward I see you but I have nothing to say so I’ll just ignore you exchange. You can wave or acknowledge my presence by head nod. But please, don’t engage me in small talk. I just. Don’t. Have. Time. Right now.

In case you need assistance in deciphering, small talk includes but is not limited to the weather, the Super Bowl, the halftime show or the presidential race. Although, politics and religion can be an interesting way to uncover what I truly value as long as you’re willing to hear me without judgement and disdain for my beliefs.

If I ask you how you are, I care to hear an honest answer. Please don’t tell me about your appointments, what you had for lunch or your shopping list. Lay it on me. I can handle it. What made you laugh today? What pissed you off so much you couldn’t see straight? More importantly, why? What keeps you up at night? Do you have a personal project you’re creating? What makes your heart sing? What brings you peace? You know. The good shit.

If you can’t be real with me, carry on. You see, I’m off in search of only that. The real. The truth. Quite honestly, when I look around very little seems real to me. Fancy cars, politics, business speak, daily chit chat, the Kardashians – it all seems to be taking up space right now and for me, it’s too much. Too much phoney. So I’m off to have an experience with the real.

DONE (With Diets And A Few Other Things)

I have been in the fitness business for over 15 years. From being in front of the camera to being behind it, teaching weekly classes from New York to Los Angeles and places in between. I’ve seen the rise of Zumba, the Shake Weight (I even lead some of their ancillary DVD workouts – feel free, laugh. I do.) Jillian Michaels, Hip Hop Abs and Insanity, Crossfit, P90X, Soul Cycle, TaeBo, CoreFusion, CorePower, Bikram, and heaven help me, the plexiglass parade of yoga on a bed in NYC.

I’ve been around for, and participated in, the no-carb, lo-carb, sugar free, no fat, some fat, lots of fat, raw, Paleo, Hunter-Gatherer, Gluten free, and everyone’s favorite, the Grapefruit Diet.

I’ve watched how every single fad, trend and celebrity quick fix have single handedly whipped not only women, but more increasingly, men, into a food and fitness frenzy. The health and fitness space is so filled with opinions, guidelines and Instagram butt photos, I don’t know whether to down dog or tap back.

And I’m done.

While this industry has been very good to me, I struggle with what us ‘experts’ are doing to others. Can we please take a touch step and box jump back and objectively look at the culture we are creating? We have become an obsessed society. Obsessed with working out. Obsessed with gluten free. Obsessed with the front row. Obsessed with Instagram yoga.

Maybe I’m slightly hypersensitive as body dysmorphia and eating disorders have plagued me since high school. Or maybe, at the ripe old age of 41, I’m beginning to grow into my own and realize it’s time to be done with temporary weight loss, fads and fanatical approaches to health. Finally, my desire to be happy is greater than my desire to be thin.

So here is a short list (trust me, there is a long list) of my done’s. (Yes, it is a list but ya’ll read those!)

  1. I’m done with food rules. Do you mean to tell me if found yourself in an episode of LOST and happened to cross paths with a turkey and cheddar on whole wheat with mayo you would turn your nose up because you’re a gluten free, vegan Paleo? It’s whole wheat for crying out loud.
  2. I’m done with ‘hacking’ – bio, mind, internet or any other shortcut to ‘figure things out’. I understand we all want to feel our best and perform at optimal levels, but life is messy and in case you haven’t noticed, you have no control. So give it up, embrace the slop, and enjoy the ride a bit.
  3. I’m done with yoga. You heard me. I may get on my mat every day for some down dogs and forward folds, but I’m done with yoga as exercise. You want some cardio? Go for a damn run.
  4. Speaking of, I’m done with running. From my fears, my insecurities and my own dysfunction. No amount of hours I spend on the treadmill make these disappear. In fact, it probably heightens them.
  5. I’m done with looking in the mirror and criticizing every inch, millimeter and line. I’m actually shocked that, with as much disgust and judgment I’ve placed on this amazing machine known as my body, it continues to show up day after day without some sort of temper tantrum.
  6. I’m done comparing myself to my 29 year old cover girl self. Or any 29 year old for that matter. Or 40 year. Or 50 year old. This one is so much easier said than done.
  7. I’m done with hearing excuses. And I’ve heard a lot in my twenty odd years of teaching. My favorite? “I can’t meditate.” Yes. You can. Just like I did. By sitting my ass down with slumped shoulders day after day, year after year, enduring discomfort, distractions, numb legs, and a bat shit crazy mind until eventually I found stability and ease.
  8. I’m done with reading about solutions, no matter how valid, to my problems, whether perceived or real. This is not to say I will stop learning – or teaching – but when will enough be enough?

When will we stop looking to the latest YouTube or Instagram celebrity and start following the best expert of all? YOU.

You created your source of discontent, whether it be obesity, anxiety, unhappiness, or dis-ease on any level. Only you have the solution. Take responsibility and stop seeking answers outside yourself. Know that the answer isn’t in a photo of a pretty yogi in a beautifully contorted position or a top ten list, but your own inner wisdom and light. Figure out how to get there more (which may mean getting to the gym less) for all the answers you truly need are inside.

At the end of the day, the enemy is not sugar, juice cleanses, Turbo Jam, or Tara Stiles. It’s not Facebook or People magazine. The enemy is our minds. If we can figure out how to tame that unruly, defiant and petulant son of a gun, we’ll have made more peace with all of this faster than you can say front row.

I’d love to hear what you’re DONE with! Send out a Tweet with #DONE!

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