2017. Almost here. 2016 was pretty fucking good. Until it wasn’t. It was a juxtaposition of emotions, events and experiences. The highest of highs and the lowest lows. It was mobile, almost turbulent at times. It was learning and huge growth and expansion, cultivating understanding and compassion for myself. For others. Culminating in a freedom unlike any I have ever known. I got my ass handed to me on more than one occasion. Yet I also had grace and beauty placed at my feet and in my heart. Many times. And while music lost some of my greatest idols – those who provided soundtracks for my life – I simultaneously grieved the many versions of me that died. Pieces or all of: the Victim, the Damsel In Distress, the Princess, the Achiever, the People Pleaser, the Teacher, the Little Girl, the Wounded Woman, the Seeker, the Warrior, the Fighter. All fell away to make room for who I truly am. And created space for new roles, goals and purpose. In places that once were so crowded and bound with anger, shame, fear and need I now feel space. In my body. In my mind. And in my heart. I have been relieved of a heavy heavy weight and i am ready to soar effortlessly into 2017.
There is so much I could say about 2016. Yet when I try to encapsulate my adventures of the past year into words, I fail. The closest I’ve come to describing my sentiments is “Whoa.” Since February, I have not slept in the same bed for more than three weeks and sadly, not for reasons some people traditionally use beds. I’ve prayed and meditated in India, surfed in Sri Lanka, hiked amazing mountains in Colorado, and made connections all over the world with friends old and new. I completed a good portion of my book yet also come to find that as poignant and insightful as my tale may be, without the clout of millions of followers on social media, it likely will not get published and reach those I so hoped it would. Unfortunate for me as right now, the last thing I want to do is play this social media game. It’s been weeks since I’ve been active on Facebook and I can’t say that I miss it. Ironically, however, I’m sure I’ll make a post or two about this blog. Otherwise, how else will anyone know I even wrote it?
This year has forced me to question who I am and who I want to be. Likely, given the current events of the past month, I am not the only one. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt the most expansive and light I’ve ever felt yet weeks later, shrunk into a contraction until only a shell of the woman I used to know remained. It’s been a study in contrasts to say the least.
2016 delivered so many answers yet even more questions. And lessons too many to recount here. Just when I thought I was content and safe and had shit figured out – WHOP! Right upside the head. Not once have I been allowed to forget that I have shadows and darkness that require my attention, care, and love. Pieces of me that I have been ashamed of and condemned are demanding to be tended to with kindness and acceptance. To be integrated into my whole being as opposed to being pushed away and neglected. I can no longer beat them back and command they go away. I must lay down my arms and surrender. One day, feeling particularly defeated, I wrote – I’m tired of trying. And seamlessly the next words flowed from my fingers through my pen and onto the page – Then stop trying.
I am making yet another move to find a place that feels like home. A place that will honor where I’ve been and nurture where I want to go. In my clearest moments, I am certain Los Angeles is this place. Yet, I watch doubt creep in when others fire questions my way. Where are you going to live? Do you have a job? What are you going to do when you get there? Do you have savings? I sense my blood pressure shoot up simply writing them down. When I feel strong and stable my reply is a definitive I don’t know, full of trust and calm. But repeating these questions in my head (a scary place to be) and overthinking (one of my greatest gifts) instantaneously triggers at times a debilitating fear that convinces me I’m destined for a lackluster life plagued by depression. Where I want to be seems so very far far away from where I am. And no Google map will get me there. I’m not even sure where ‘there’ is.
I’ve taken to wearing a ring lately that I picked up some years ago. On it, unbeknownst to me at the time, is an Alcoholics Anonymous anthem: I promise to take it one day at a time. I’ve never had a dependency issue with drink or drugs aside from caffeine, yet something in those words resonate deep inside. Lately, it’s what prevents me from feeling completely overwhelmed and helpless. I don’t know what will happen next week, next month, and sure as shit not in 2017. Thinking about a master plan feels too daunting and riddles me with anxiety. I am not sure what’s right. I can only be certain of the next right thing. A day at a time. And I know if I continue to do the ‘next right thing’ life will continue as 2016 ensued – a grand adventure. No matter where I am. #adventureon
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 Upanishad – Brahman 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.
It’s funny. It seemed like yesterday I was counting down the days until my departure for India. One week out. 5 days out. TOMORROW. Now, it’s reverse. I find myself thinking It’s been 10 days since I’ve been home.
I knew coming back to ambiguity was going to be a bigger challenge than leaving or being away. I was beyond ready to change the status quo, leave my job. There was a certainty about my decision that I didn’t question. Every bone in my body knew embarking on my adventure was the right thing to do. Now, my favorite answer to any given question on any given day is I don’t know.
What are you going to do? I don’t know. Are you going to stay in Austin? I don’t know. Are you moving back to L.A.? I don’t know. I think what some people really want to know is how are you going to support yourself? Good question. You know the answer.
While anxiety over the unknown is not an unfamiliar feeling, the fact of the matter is I’ve grown to be okay with simply being. It seems other people have more difficulty grasping the concept. I sense their discomfort when they realize I’m not rushing to the next job or just hanging out doing yoga. Maybe it challenges their status quo and prompts them to question how they are living their lives. My favorite response to my experience of leaving everything I knew to travel is (with a huge sigh) Ohhhhh, I WISH I could do that. Sometimes I say it aloud, sometimes not, but the response in my head is always You can. You choose not to. We all have limitations, challenges and responsibilities. Granted some are bigger than others. I would put raising children on top. (Hats off to all the parents out there.) However, I have a friend – a Mom – that took off for India and Sri Lanka for 3 weeks. She doesn’t have a nanny and she runs a business. My cousin takes her family all over the world to experience other cultures together. Point is anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
I keep myself to a schedule to maintain a sense of purpose and routine to my day. I try to retire no later than 10pm and wake by 6am. I give myself plenty of time to rouse and ease into my hour, sometimes longer, meditations. I no longer have my car so errands take a bit longer. I rode my bike to the post office yesterday. I walked to the store. I took a Pilates class in the middle of the afternoon. (I can feel the unease already…) I took one work call. I wrote a few work emails. I fixed my bike. I made breakfast, lunch and dinner. I did some laundry. I made plans to see friends. I practiced and meditated again before dinner. I just went along and my day seemed quite full.
Before, I used to have to check 25 things off my list to feel accomplished. Now, I’m okay with a few things and I don’t mind that I no longer wear the I’m soooo busy badge of honor. It’s easy to see that we create our own activity. And we create or own stress.
Right now, I’m praying for guidance. Every day I have a new idea, a thought on what to pursue, a spark of something new on the horizon. I remain committed to being open to possibility – even ones I haven’t imagined for myself. (A family? Moving to Iowa? Nahhhhhh . . . ) It’s probably the main reason I am devoting so much time to my practice. My practice doesn’t have room for fear, anxiety and worry. It’s where I find peace, quiet, and freedom. Space to listen. I find myself doing some of the old things I used to here in Austin. But now, I have time to step back and ask myself does this feel right? This place. This person. This activity. This habit. Does it feel good? Is it authentic and does it honor the person I am today? Because, happily, the woman typing this is not the same woman who wrote that first blog back in February. And that, my friends, feels good.