Monday, December 3, 2012

Story Time

The wind is whipping outside, spitting torrents of rain against my window in mad little spurts. Rain storms are rare in the high, alpine deserts of Utah, and when we were blessed with rain, wind, thunder or lightning I would cower under my covers, afraid.  My mother told me to pretend the storm was singing me a lullaby, and since I was good at following instructions, I did. Now storms lull me to sleep and bring me comfort.

I've lived in Seattle for two months now and people keep asking me if I like the weather. When I tell them I do, they ask me if I've spent an entire winter here. When I tell them I haven't, they lift their eyebrows at me as if I'm oblivious to the fact that it will keep raining all winter and that I shouldn't like the rain. So I keep my secret about finding pleasure and comfort in storms and raise my eyebrows back at them.

I like the rain.  Deal with it.

It's interesting, the stories we tell ourselves about life. I tell myself I like the rain, and so I do. My mother told me the rain was a lullaby, and I chose to believe her. Our lives are created and constantly determined and redefined by the stories we tell ourselves and how we choose to see ourselves.

Yes, how we choose to see ourselves.

That voice inside? The one that says that you hate being wet, and winter sucks, and how much happier you'd be if it was sunny all the time? That's you choosing to relate a certain way to your surroundings.

And the one that tells you that you're too fat, thin, ugly, pretty, lazy, stupid, smart or whatever? That's you choosing to think a certain way about yourself.

Sometimes our thoughts don't feel like a choice. Sometimes they feel very set in stone, and our story about our past that plays us as a victim or a villain seems to be written on golden plates. THIS IS MY STORY, we think. THIS IS MY IDENTITY.

Here's a fictional example. Scarlet is depressed. Her mom won't give her the praise she feels she deserves and her family doesn't give her the attention she wants. She isn't getting what she feels she deserves from the people around her, and because of that, she is depressed.  Even her body seems to betray her as she often falls ill or becomes injured. She feels like the victim in her own life.  But this is not how she has to relate to her story.  Slowly, Scarlet can start to choose to be her own hero -- the girl who doesn't need the approval of others to be warm, successful and sassy.

This year, through a variety of circumstances, I lost my husband, my best friend, a good friend, my home, my dog, my cat, my security, my Ayurvedic practice, a boyfriend, my yoga community, and access to good burritos. That's one way I could choose to look at this year. Instead, I can choose to see it as shedding old habits and patterns that no longer serve me and allowing space for new things to enter my life, including new friends, animals, work, relationships and good Pho.

For me, like is growth, and I'm continuously assessing my relationship to my story. So it was a shock when my teacher called me out a self-limiting pattern I couldn't quite see. She said, "I support your goals, but can't you see that you're so focused on self-growth that you're not able to give yourself love if you don't achieve it? You're not even on your own team! You need to change this and I suggest X,Y,Z."

I was so angry at her for "busting my game," or for calling me out on a pattern that felt comfortable and allowed me to relate to myself in a different, but ultimately same, old judgmental ways I had before. I was angry that I hadn't seen the pattern that I was in. And sometimes that's the hardest part -- recognizing the pattern your in. And then the second hardest, being willing to let go of that pattern.

I wasn't ready to let go of mine. I struggled with moving forward for a few days, losing myself in the new Twilight movie, reading book after book, and diving into the nostalgia of my past through old journals. The the more I struggled against moving forward, the more by body let out protest -- I clumsily injured my foot, my spine became unaligned and I had nightmares.  Yet again, I needed to change my relationship to my story -- my story that said I didn't deserve to give to myself unless I achieved.

So how do we start to recognize our stories so that we can step back from them, see them for what they are, and then change our relationship to them to bring about whole health and healing?

I obviously give myself a few days of lee-way to get used to the idea.  After that, the idea is simple on paper but harder in practice.

First, we need to realize that we are Spirit. We are Perfection in a human body having a human experience and choosing in each moment of each day how to relate to ourselves and the world around us. We need to learn to become neutral to our situation and to find amusement at both the big and small things. Once we can laugh at our struggles they tend to lose their power over us and we become free to move in a new direction. Then, by all means, move into that new direction!

Today, I am working mechanically through the instructions my teacher gave me. In other words, I'm going to fake it until I make it, because I know her suggestions are in line with the next step for me. So I'm praising myself before I write this post, which feels strange because I haven't done anything yet. And when I feel like it's not working, or that I don't like it, or that my life is otherwise difficult or a struggle, I'm going to get up and dance the funky chicken at that struggle, so then I can laugh, and let it go, and move on.

And I'm going to walk in the rain. Because even though I like the rain, I don't like to be cold. Or so I tell myself.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A week of variety

It's been an interesting week.

It's been painful. It's been joyful. It's been stressful. It's been relaxing. It's been a week that has hurt me so deeply that I thought my heart might actually break in two, and then flooded me with so much joy that I thought I might lift off like a hot air balloon and play in the sky. 

It's been a week full of new experiences.

Some of these experiences I would have rather not had. Like having my heart broken. That happened this week, so suddenly that it felt like a slap in the face. It left me so angry that I wanted to throw things recklessly, like glass bottles against walls, just to hear them crash into a million different pieces. I didn't, because my mom is a bit of a clean freak and I kept hearing her voice in my head telling me to clean it up. Somehow the thought of breaking bottles and then sweeping them up didn't sound as appealing.  

Instead, I allowed myself to drink more coffee, and eat more bacon, and take more hot baths.

Other experiences were so unexpected and so much fun that I felt like a child being spun around in circles, getting dizzy and laughing.  Like being asked out for a night of dancing in a hip-hop bar. With a guy.  Who can dance.  Or spending time with a new friend, slacklining for an afternoon in the sun, getting to talk one-on-one and connect. Or just spending time by myself with the blessed Seattle sun, layers of outdoor clothing, cool air and a slackline, and being grateful that I'm alive to have those simple joys.

I cut bangs. Myself. And everyone asked me if I colored my hair.  

I bought red lip stick. And wore it.

I celebrated my 31st birthday. Kind of.  I did my best.  Meaning that I put on a new dress, my new lipstick with my new bangs and went to work with the intention of celebrating myself that day.  I did pretty well.  But then I got stuck at work that night and ended up at a sushi restaurant with my ex, having the "I need closure" talk, instead of out to see music with my roommates.  The owners of the sushi place gave me ice cream with a candle and sang me happy birthday. I have never had any of those experiences before, but now I can cross them off my list.

You never know what life is going to throw at you.  You can only choose how you react. I'm realizing that the pain that this week brought on hasn't completely gone away, but that doesn't mean that I can't still be my happy, healthy, annoyingly-cheerful-in-the-morning self. The more that the pain fades, and the more that I let the past fade away, the more I allow myself to open to new experiences and the more capacity I have to enjoy them.

I don't have a big, profound message for this post. I'm working through life just like everyone; I'm just choosing to share it here. I think that sometimes we feel really alone in our processes, and while being alone is just fine, sometimes we can feel so alone as to believe we're isolated. A friend argued to me that we are all alone, but I disagree. I believe we're all cells of the same organism, and the more we can share and connect and learn from each other, the easier this whole human experience might be for all of us.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Art of Holding Space

As life continues to teach, my mind continues to try to categorize and make sense of its lessons.  Recently, the lesson that I seem to be learning over and over again is the art of holding space. (Well, that, and the art of letting go, but we've already covered that in previous posts).  Not only have I been learning to hold space for others, I've also been learning to create more space for myself.

What does it mean to hold space?

The first time I brought this concept up to my ex husband he looked at me with a blank expression and said, "Okay. What does that mean?"

The funny thing was that I only had this vague picture in my head as to what it meant, and I couldn't describe it exactly. At the time, what I had wanted from him was more space to be with my own process, my spiritual growth, and to have validation from him in the form of freedom, listening without advising, and acceptance of where I was no matter where that was.

Interesting enough, I was pretty close to what others describe to be the definition of "holding space."  In a blog that discusses spiritual awakening, James Trolles breaks down the art of holding space into four key components: "Letting go of judgement, Opening your heart, Allowing another to have whatever experience they're having, and Giving your complete undivided attention to the situation/other person."

Basically, holding space means that you allow yourself to be with another individual without trying fix them, judge them, win their affection or affect any kind of outcome.

It's harder than it sounds.

I'm a yoga teacher, an alternative health practitioner, and a medical intuitive -- I teach people how to fix their problems on a professional level.  And have you met me? I like to solve problems. That's part of the reason I got into Ayurveda -- putting a report of findings together is like solving a big puzzle.  So when a close friend or lover comes to me with a laundry list of things gone wrong, I immediately go into "fix it" mode.

Note to self: you cannot hold space for someone while simultaneously trying to fix their problems.

Holding space is about allowing a situation to unfold without fueling the emotions that may be part of it.  Holding space is trusting that by allowing a person to express their emotions freely, their deeper healing is already at work.  Anything you say while holding space must be free from your judgements about them and their situation. You get to create a safe space for them to have their process.

In relationships, holding space can be difficult, if not down right scary.  Holding space for a lover may mean being non-reactive when they come to you with tears, and allowing them to cry while you stay neutral to their emotional storm. This can be difficult for a lover who wants you to feed into their emotional issues and debris, rather than hold space so they can dig through it themselves and clean it out.  The practice of holding space for a partner can shake them up or even end relationships that aren't ready to evolve.

The practice of holding space has illuminated where my emotional work is. As I've been practicing with my partner, I find that it brings up questions in my space like "Why can't he just take my advice? Does he not value my opinion? Is it okay that he wants a week to himself? Do I trust him? Will he still want to be with me once he's gone through his process?  Am I okay with that? "

So I've got some work to do.

Which brings me to the concept of holding space for yourself.  James Trolles says that this concept is silly, since he says that it:

 "reinforces an inner duality that doesn't need to be there. Building inner space involves becoming the watcher or the witness to your thoughts. . . .This can be a way to develop a deeper sense of stillness, and as you come to understand this deeper space inside you, it becomes easier to let go of "you" and your ego desires and whatnot. Being able to move into this internal space is how we can hold space for another."

I feel like what I'm doing is trying to push my ego to the side -- push aside all the judgements and criticisms I have about who I am, where I am in my life, and the choices I've made that have brought me here -- so that I can realize that those judgements are just the muck that is making its way from my subconscious and running through my brain. My higher self, that stillness Trolles talks about, doesn't make judgements and, as long as I'm still alive and having experiences (and most likely after that, too), it's good to go.

I've spent most of my life basing my worth on what I accomplish -- how much education I have, how much physical activity I can do, the importance of my field of work, or how much money I have.  But a life based on those things without unconditional acceptance of myself as a person is a life devoid of true happiness and joy.

So not only am I holding space for people in my life, I'm also trying to hold space for myself, so that I can continue to heal my body and make myself more available to my soul. I'm finding that the more space I give myself to just BE, the more joy I find in the simple things.  And the more space I can create for myself to simply BE MYSELF, without the old list of definitions and criticisms, the more joy I'm able to feel and sustain.

As I've said before -- isn't sustained joy the whole purpose of life?

I find that the more I hold space for myself, the more joy I'm able to feel, and the more joy I feel, the more space I have to hold for others. So the practice is like a big joy-generating wheel! It's a little difficult to get it started, but once it's going, there's more joy and freedom for everyone involved. The great part about it is that, like yoga, it's a practice, so you just get to keep trying; once you jump on the wheel, you're on it; it might slow down from time to time, but the practice is just to keep it going at whatever speed suits you.  Just like the famous yogi, Pattabhi Jois once said, "Practice, practice and all is coming." All you've got to lose is the joy ;)

Saturday, October 13, 2012


I've been a week in Seattle and the rains have finally come. I took a walk this morning in my new, knee-length rain jacket and listened to the pitter-patter of rain drops on my hood juxtaposed with the crashing of horse chestnuts falling from nearby trees and narrowly missing me, somehow, every time.  I wasn't even a quarter through my short morning walk when I was sighing from the heat and removing a layer of clothing from beneath my jacket.  I haven't quite remembered how to layer for cool weather.  I spent so long in southern California that I seem to think any temperature below 60 is cold and requires multiple layers. The outcome is that I end up sweating through all of my jaunts outside.

But I'm learning, and as long as I picture myself in some sort of "Seattle kindergarten," then I can laugh at myself and try again tomorrow.

The move went smoothly. My house, room, and four roommates are fantastic.  On a clear morning, of which I had a few in this first week, I can see out past Lake Washington from my bedroom window during a rosy sunrise. I live in a big, old house near the University of Washington, which has its advantages and disadvantages.  The house is beautiful -- three stories, hardwood floors throughout the upper two floors, set on a wide street with other similar houses.  It's near a beautiful, wooded ravene park. Many of our neighbors are families, although a few are rentals like us and host UW students. On my first Saturday night, someone through such a raging party that our windows almost rattled. Thankfully, they quieted down by 10 so I could get some sleep.

I've remembered the joys of bike commuting.  I switched out the clip-less petals on my mountain bike for flats and started riding around on it.  I've realized pretty quickly that first, that bike is too flashy to be riding around in a high bike-theft area, and second, that what I really want to be commuting on around here is a road bike (seriously, my legs are already getting huge from hefting that huge frame up all these hills).  So I'm working on figuring that out.  In the mean time, I'm lucky enough to be able to walk to the store, the YMCA, the park, the cafe, the bar, and the burrito place (which, I was right, just doesn't add up to the quality of those OB burritos. Insert sad face here).

I've been working part time from my computer as an administrative assistant for a local yoga therapist.  I love the job, I just wish it was more hours. I've been looking for more work and trying not to get too frightened at the dwindling numbers in my bank account during the search.  I figured out how to jump through all the hoops of practicing Ayurveda in the state of Washington, which requires me to have a "hands on touch" license.  It will just take me passing the national massage test and paying a massage school a transfer fee, and paying for a new license.  All to the tune of about $700.  So I'm working towards that, I just don't yet know when it will all come together.

I'm still working on feeling my way through life rather than thinking so much. I really tend to over-think, over analyze, to the point that I can make a problem out of anything.  I'm working on surrendering to my life, rather than pretending I have so much control.  I knew it was right to move here, so I know that the Universe will take care of me. I just like to have answers to things and the not knowing is so challenging!  But when I worry I do silly things like I did yesterday, which was slip down the stairs in my hurry out the door and sprain my finger.  There's nothing like a painful digit to remind you to slow down and be a bit more mindful.

Speaking of surrendering and feeling my way through life. I've been working on my vision of how I want to help people heal. I love Ayurveda and believe in its ability to help us heal, but I also use my intuitive skills a lot when working with clients. To that end, I've joined a medical intuitive training program called the Wellness Alchemy Master Healers program.  Many of you know that I am a clairvoyant (intuitive, psychic, same thing), and some of you have had readings from me.  Now I'll be practicing giving Wellness Alchemy healings over the next year, so please contact me if you'd like to schedule an appointment. I see myself using this skill in combination with Ayurveda, Yoga and massage to offer clients whole body-mind-spirit healing.

So that's my experience in Seattle so far.  I'll keep you posted.  Oh, one more thing -- the coffee here is excellent.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Packing is exhausting.  I can only do it in bits and spurts, until my low back cries out, "No more!" and makes me take a break.  During my breaks I read trashy vampire novels I've left in a "donate" pile, knit a new cowl for upcoming cool weather, watch re-runs of familiar TV shows on Netflix, eat burritos (I don't know if Seattle will have the quality of burritos we have here), and study Tarot (yes, I'm quite a mixed bag, aren't I?).

But tonight, my packing was finished, or as far as can be finished without the final shower, the last batch of laundry, the loading of the truck.  Tonight, I celebrated the end of packing with a cold Scotch ale and my last sunset at Sunset Cliffs in OB.  It was not a sad night, not a night where I was teary-eyed at all that I was leaving behind, oh no.  Tonight was a celebration.  As I watched the beautiful waves heave themselves against the cliffs, then draw back out toward the horizon again, a metaphor for my life right now, a deep seated feeling spread throughout me and took me by surprise.  Tears came to my eyes.  Because I was indescribably happy for the first time in so long.

More and more, I'm being called to "feel" my way through life -- to make fewer decisions based on logic and intellect and more based on how they feel to me.  As a very mundane example, the other day I had some time between appointments in Solana Beach, so I went to one of my favorite stores (The Leaping Lotus -- don't kid me, you know you could spend hours there).  They have this fabulous scented oil I like, so I went and found it, then started looking around.  I found a dress I liked and tried it on.  For the next 20 minutes, I analyzed the pros and cons of buying the dress.  Could I afford it? What bills did I have left to pay?  Did I need it? Would I wear it in Seattle?  After all the analyzing my mind was overwhelmed and I finally bought the darn thing, only to walk out of the store and have a huge sense of guilt plague me.  So I did something I've never done before -- I walked right back into the store and returned it, no apologies, just doing what I felt was right for me.

As a bigger example: people keep asking me why I'm moving to Seattle.  The only answer that seems honest is, "It just feels right."  I feel good in Seattle.  I don't have huge opportunity awaiting me that I know of, although it feels that way.  My family doesn't live there, and I've only recently spent time there.  But when I'm there, my body has this sense of settling and grounding that I haven't felt in years.  The air smells cool and crisp in the morning that lets me sense that fall is right around the corner.  It feels more like home than any place I've lived in the past six years, so I've decided to move there. It feels right.

This morning I did yoga on the sea cliffs near my house, and then again tonight I watched the sunset from the same cliff.  The swell has picked up, and the waves are bigger than they have been in a while.  I used to surf a lot.  I used to feel the energy of the water moving underneath me almost everyday, and everyday it was different.  On a big swell day, I had to be more careful with my choices in waves or else I might get caught inside, taking the greatest impact from the waves.  As any regular surfer knows, if you are caught off guard in big swell, the waves to with you what they will. However, if you do get caught in that unfortunate wave, it's best to relax and let the water move you, rather than struggle against a force that is so much greater than you.

That's how this year has been.  When I went to India at the beginning of this year, I realize now that was me fully stepping on my spiritual path, like a surfer choosing her wave.  And as those who enter onto a spiritual path know, once you step on, there's no stepping off.  Once you've chosen your wave, you're on it for the entire ride, whether you fall off or ride strong.  Sometimes, you might feel like you're drowning, but if you learn to relax, chances are you'll resurface, because you were smart enough to chose the right wave for you.  Choosing to follow a spiritual path is similar -- you might feel overwhelmed at times, but the key is to learn to relax, to trust that if spirit led you to this path, you'll resurface again.

I'm resurfacing.  In this moment, I'm resurfacing.  I don't know what the future brings.  For all I know, I'll resurface just in time to see another wave cover me.  But I don't think that will happen, and even if it does, it's okay -- I'm learning to relax.

I've been so blessed in San Diego -- this place has taught me so much.  The lessons weren't always easy, and some days I wished to be other places, but I have grown more in the last four years than I might have my whole life.  I've been given a wonderful group of people who I love and who support me, and I am forever grateful for them.

I've spent the past week letting go of my old identity.  I've said goodbye to those I need to leave behind, and farewell for now to those I will see again soon.  I've done my best to stay grounded while I'm still here -- to each morning greet the day in nature and plant my feet firmly in the sand so that I stay present here.  Tomorrow, I will load up and start the trek to Seattle.  I am excited! My intention is to leave behind anything that kept me from realizing all of my hopes, dreams and wishes; to learn from my past but live in the present; and to be brave as I move into the next phase of my life.  I'm ready to keep this happiness.  I'm ready to be back on the surface.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Moving Forward with Grace

Sometimes the past looks so comfortable, so stable and so inviting.  But that doesn't mean that it's right for you anymore.

Just given the fact that it IS the past is reason enough to believe that it isn't nurturing you, comforting you, or supporting you anymore in the way that you need.

I know these things to be true.  That we can only move forward, and there's really no point in trying to move back. I don't want to move backward -- for me, moving backward would mean moving out of the truth in my heart, moving away from being true to myself and my path. It would mean the cold and drowsy stability that kept me hostage for enough years, and it is not for me.

But moving forward can be scary.  I'm currently reading the classic tale, "The Mists of Avalon," and in it the character Morgaine keeps saying, "Be careful what you pray for, as you might just receive it." Just as she warns in this old, mystical tale, so I hear her words repeated in my head as I am happy to be moving forward -- I just seem to be moving at a pace that seems so quick compared to the dull and stagnant pain of the past.

This week, I entered a situation which put one of my feet back into my "old" life -- the life I lead before I stepped on my path to truth.  One of truths about moving forward, for me, is that I've been asked to let go of things at an increased rate.  One of those things are the animal companions I've had for ten years.  For a myriad of reasons that I will not debate here, I have turned over primary care to the hands of my ex, who can provide them a place of comfort and stability than I at this point. While he has been away on vacation, I have stayed at my old place of residence to care after my furry friends.

I love being with these animals and taking care of them once again. Yet I find myself in an pattern that is all too familiar of my old life, and it's as if I see an old shadow of myself against the walls of this house. Indeed, it is like I stepped one foot back into my old life. I can see the comfort that was created in those old patterns, and how those comforts like quicksand acted to keep me there for so long.  I move around in this space where I dwelt for so long, falling back into old routines in a space that was mine but isn't anymore.  This isn't my space anymore, and the familiarity is haunting.  And the house I rent, however nice it is, is not mine either.  I realized two things -- that I'm ready to create my own space and that yes, I deserve to have it.

Instead of being drain back into old patterns, I have been motivated to move forward and create new ones. As my energy shifted into creation mode, the Universe quickly laid into my hands what must have already been mine. Receiving what I ask for again and again has quickly knocked down any barrier I had about deserving those things.  This week, I realized again that I DO deserve to succeed and that I am worthy of Divine grace, acceptance and aid.

As I came to those realizations, I made plans to move forward, and the Universe answered. In about a month, I am moving away from San Diego and into the lush, dripping greenery of Seattle.  I have a job interview next week.  I have word from my family to help me move.  I have a lover who is waiting for me.  I am ready to create my own, new reality based on my spiritual path of being true to myself and to Universal guidance.

It's not always easy, moving forward so quickly. I do not want to go back in any way, shape or form, it's just that moving forward takes courage, faith and acceptance in order to work and sometimes I find myself having a human experience and feeling afraid.  But that's okay, too, I suppose.  I am so lucky to have the support of others following their paths to their truths, and one of my close friends and supporters said to me, "All you can do is move forward with grace."

All we can do is move forward with grace.

It's interesting that she said that to me, given that my name, Anna, means "Grace."  So I will try to live up to my name, then. My friend's words provide me comfort today, as I start to say goodbye to my past, my furry companions, my old limitations and my old ways of being.  I will try to make separation with compassion, with kindness, with gratitude for all that I've been given.  I will do my best to move forward with grace. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pain - What's it Really About?

I've been thinking a lot lately about pain.  I've been writing research papers on it, meditating on it, and thinking about what it does for the human condition.  But let's start simply:

What is pain?

Well, on a physical level, pain is discomfort in the body.  It's a signal from the body that something isn't right and that something in our lives needs to change.  This physical signal can be as simple as asking us to change the position of our body, as when our foot "falls asleep," or to ask us to drink more water or eat more potassium, as when our muscles cramp during strenuous exercise.  Sometimes, our body's pain signals are harder to interpret, as with chronic pain or injury (pain or injury lasting more than three months).  Additionally, there's a whole other field of pain to look at -- emotional pain and turmoil, which can depress our mood, bring tears to our eyes, and start to manifest itself on a physical level through stomach aches and headaches, heartaches and, if left unresolved, into the deeper tissues of our bodies.

I recently wrote a research paper comparing Western allopathic and Ayurvedic treatments for both acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries/pain, which you can find here.  What I found was that, when dealing with chronic pain and injury, both Western and Ayurvedic treatments work with the physical body and the mind in order to address healing.  However, Ayurveda looks at the body as an integrated system with different forces at work (the doshas) and is able to provide a more accurate and unique healing program for individuals.  Additionally, Ayurvedic knowledge moves deeper than Western to include information about subtle body anatomy, and is able to address how our beliefs and thoughts, and their corresponding attitudes and behaviors, affect our health.

How many times have you had a headache, or a backache, or some other kind of ache, and simply fed it with an over-the-counter pain reliever and thought nothing more?  I know I have, several times.  We are human, and when the human body is suffering, we need to have our symptoms eased.  However, when our body cries out in pain and we feed it with a synthetic numbing agent, we are essentially telling the body, "Shut up, I don't want to hear it."  And indeed, when pain occurs over and over, and we constantly ask the body to "shut up," we create a disrespectful relationship with the body, and can start to see the body as something "other" than we are.  We start to believe that the body is "acting up," like, "why won't my body feel good so I can do the things I want to," as if our bodies weren't attached to the rest of mind and spirit.  How many of you have related this way because you believed that the pain was something that you inherited?  As in, "My dad has a bad back, so bad backs run in the family."  Or, "My mom always got headaches before her period, and she passed that on to me."   The belief that we will always inherit the physical problems of our predecessors is simply that -- a belief.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we are what we believe, and our beliefs create our experiences.  Believing that we inherit some form of illness is a story that we can choose to tell ourselves or not.

Taking that NSAID pain reliever for a headache now and then isn't a bad thing.  However, if you are consistently getting headaches, or back aches, or other aches, it's time to stop turning off the body's signals and start listening to the message your body is trying to tell you.  Pain is an effective communicative skill that the body has, if only we are able to listen and to open ourselves to the more subtle meanings behind our pain.

Sometimes physical pain is just that -- physical.  But always there's an underlying cause.  Since this heat wave has started, I have been getting slight headaches around noon that manifest behind my eyes.  Because of my studies in Ayurveda, I know that this type of headache is from heat and from having too many fire-building activities during this hot weather.  For example, it's been over 80 degrees on the coast, yet I continued to treat myself to local burritos with hot sauce, drinks with friends, and long walks during mid-day.  All of these things build heat, and once I listened to my body's signals, took note of my actions and changed them, my body stopped sending me the pain signal.  Sometimes, the underlying cause becomes more difficult to find, as with chronic pain.

Working through sacro-iliac dysfunction, with its consistent pain and discomfort, taught me a lot about myself.  Pain changes this game we call life.  When I first experienced the severe pain that would change the course of my life, I did what I've been taught to do -- in fact, what my family always did when there was back pain (because we are that family of "bad backs") -- I gave up my personal power to heal and helplessly handed myself over to a person in white coat, who by their credentials must know more about healing than me, and did what they told me to do, which included lots of pain relievers and muscle relaxers.  I went to traditional physical therapy, where I was in a large room of people, my therapist treating me while gossiping with his friends and treating another patient simultaneously.  I didn't change my lifestyle, except for what the pain made me change. I didn't look inside.  Until I realized I wasn't getting any better.

But I've told my story here, so I won't run it here again.  Unfortunately, this is the type of story that is told over and over again in health care offices everywhere.  That story that we are doing everything "right," or at least doing everything our doctors have asked us to, yet we're still not getting better.  We might be getting worse. The bottom line is that when pain becomes chronic, and no form of physical treatment, Western or alternative, can fix it, it's time too look inside to the subtle body factors contributing to pain.

We know that certain emotions can have very fast acting effects in the physical body.  For example, fear -- it accelerates the heart rate and creates a hormonal response in the body, which increases your respiration, effects your sphincter control and relaxes the bladder (you gotta "go" so you can run if you have to), creates tunnel vision, and more.  Often times, the fear we experience is because we are afraid of pain.  And if we haven't yet recognized the source of our pain, we can become fearful of having more pain, and our body can continue to show symptoms of both pain and now fear, creating a viscous cycle of chicken and egg.

But I digress.  Chronic pain, or any dis-ease in the body really, has an origin.  Especially if the pain wasn't caused by a sudden injury (and sometimes even if it was), there is often a pattern in our attitudes and behaviors that is supporting the pain and letting it stay there so that we can recognize this pattern and change it.  We become the stories we tell ourselves.  If we believe that we have a bad back, hip, neck, whatever, from our family, or if we believe in general that "people get old at age 60" and fall apart, then "So Be It," says the universe.  If your mind-body-spirit system isn't in line with that belief, then pain will manifest.

Often times, the stories we tell ourselves aren't as obviously related to pain as what I mentioned above.  The stories we unconsciously tell ourselves sound something like this:

I can't please anyone.

My sister got the talent in the family, I don't have any talent.

I have a right to be angry.

I'm too fat (or ugly, slow, fast, late, early, straight, narrow, liberal, conservative, etc).

All I do is procrastinate.

I'm not good with money.

I've tried everything and nothing works for me.

I am not good enough.

That's what it comes down to, generally.  The belief that you are not good enough.  This tiny little belief can have such a big impact on our lives.  If we believe, in any way, that we are not good enough, that little belief can shape our world into one of physical and emotional pain and suffering.  

A belief like this often starts sometime when we're very small, when we unknowingly accept that belief and then continue to live with it as a basic assumption.  As an example, "I'm not good enough," could turn into, "So I must go above and beyond to gain approval from my parents and others around me.  So I will go fearfully through school that I only get straight A's, marry the person the 'right' person, move into the profession that I 'should' go into even though I really love something different, start having babies before I'm 30 because 'that's the healthy thing to do,' take criticism from my partner and friends who makes me feel unworthy because, after all, I'm not good enough to deserve love and support, and I'll also accommodate everyone around me because they deserve more than I do."  Wow! No wonder someone like this may end up with a consistent back ache! She has never felt that she was supported, never learned to support herself, and holds the belief, deep down, that she just isn't good enough. Of course, none of us think like this consciously -- we might get glimpses of this belief or emotional pangs in the body from time to time, but our actions and behaviors follow our most basic assumptions about life.

So what do we do?  What if you're experiencing pain and not sure what it means?  By all means, find yourself an alternative health practitioner with experience in the connections between the subtle and physical bodies, and whose job it is first and foremost to LOVE you (really, that's what we're trained to do).  Look for someone who will give you health advice to return the power of healing back to YOU, and gently guide you toward figuring out the subtle body components to your pain. Because I've experienced pain that had a very significant subtle body cause, I'm now helping people move past their experiences in chronic pain at my office in North Park, and I'd be happy to help you as well.  Or pick up one of my most inspirational books by Louise Hay, Carolynn Myss, or Maya Tiwari.  Either way, do something -- life is too precious to be lived in pain.

Remember this:

You are perfect just the way you are. 
Your body is perfect, healed and whole.  
You are deserving of whole body health, happiness and joy in all moments of life.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What can only be described as LOVE

Does anyone else feel like time is speeding up?  Like the planet is actually spinning faster and so what our hearts desire to manifest come back to us exceedingly quickly?  I feel as though I put my intentions out towards what I'm ready to receive, and as if throwing out the worlds fastest boomerang, it's back almost before I can raise my hand to catch it.  Just in my last post, which was only a month ago but feels like ancient history, I talked about feeling happy and being ready to accept more love, happiness and authentic connections.  So with the power of this new planetary vibration beginning,  I guess it was no wonder that I found myself in the midst of the YogaSlackers Teacher Training.  This 10 day event, just as last year, was a meeting of some of the most authentic and loving people on the planet and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it.

The YogaSlackers have a reputation for being rather bad-ass, and their training is no different.  It isn't just extremely challenging physically, but often also mentally and sometimes emotionally (I mean, do these really come separate from each other?).  I wrote about this training last year in my blog, mostly my challenges with my body and meeting my own physical expectations of myself.  Also about my injury as it related to different parts of my life, particularly my relationships. But also the joy that I found in feeling part of a family of authentic and loving people.   This year was also full of love, and physically challenging, but not because I was being pushed on the line or in conditioning -- I was the cook.

Laura and I, the two cooks (or Cookies, as Sam called us)

Another brave soul and I took on the challenge of cooking for this group of 37 people for 10 days.  We kind of new what we were getting into, as we had seen it all go down before.  But as we wheeled five carts out of Costco for just our first of four shopping days, shoving food into every crack and crevice of both Jason and Chelsey's car and the Peace Love Car (aka: PLC), we wondered if we were really prepared for the week.  The schedule went something like this -- out of bed at 6am to make coffee, tea and put out snacks by 7am.  While they do yoga from 7:30 to 9, we make smoothies and serve them at 9.  Then, prepare brunch to serve by 11, a healthy snack at 3pm, and dinner by 6:30ish.  Sometimes a birthday or anniversary would require some extra TLC for late night brownies, ice cream, cake, etc.  So for the first couple days while we figured everything out, we were on our feet for something like 15 hours a day.  I have never felt my feet hurt so much.  I never really had my hips ache even when laying down.  I've never moaned in pleasure during legs-up-the-wall pose, which was done often, and in any place we happened to lay ourselves down, sometimes shaking our calves back and forth and muttering in an exhausted, dreamy voice how it looked like a kelp forest and then laughing until we melted into puddles on the floor, where sometimes hungry slackers would find us and we'd pick ourselves back up and into the kitchen....

Doing what we do best!

But, as the days went on, we became more efficient.  We were able to gauge just how much work was needed to create excellence, and no more.  We were able to give ourselves mid day naps and play time on the water slackline and interact with the amazing people who were there to learn to teach slackline and to eat our food.  So although my body was tired, and hurting in new ways that only a car buffer, trained hands and anti-inflammatories could help, I have also never felt more appreciated for such hard work.

Every day, we were thanked endlessly for our food.  We were massaged by participants.  We were given smiles and hugs (good hugs, the heart centered kind I long for), compliments and kisses, laughter and jokes and applause.  People came into the kitchen to sing with us (because, Goddess knows we were always singing).  And we were able to be part of the new generation of YogaSlacker teachers, and it felt so GOOD.  And through that process, the happiness, love and space for new possibility that just a long month ago had shot me out of a shadow and propelled me into this space of light and love, blossomed.  And I was able to give, and to receive, and to share, and to love, and to feel genuine gratitude for all that was around me.

Taco Night!

Before I left for the retreat, I had been keeping true to the lunar rhythms and following the pattern of the moon and stars in my chart.  The full moon in Sagittarius that carried with it a partial eclipse fell in my 7th house of relationships.  On a good guidance of my astrologist Holly RePenn, I created a document that lists, in detail, the qualities of a person who would fulfill my soul's need.  I was tired during this full moon, and I begrudgingly took to work, but became more interested and soon took pen to paper with gusto.  Then, when I went to Virginia, I immediately forgot about the list (which is the surest way to manifest quickly -- ask for what you want and then let it go -- how is the Universe going to take it and manifest it if you're still holding on?).  During the training, I met so many people who fulfilled my soul in so many of the ways I needed.  But I got more than that.  I am sitting here this morning, listening to the birds sing and marveling in the possibility that I've already manifested what it was I wanted from that simple list constructed during the full moon.  I'm marveling in the ways of the universe and and I'm coming to experience what it is I've always known -- that as long as I listen to the guidance of spirit, and all the tools that Spirit provides, I can have my heart's desire.  All I know is that today I am grateful, and hopeful, and grounded and happy.

I am also happy in knowledge that I am on my final leg of healing this experience of back injury. I can FEEL it in my aura and I can see it in my meditations.  I came home to see my physical therapist, sure that long hours on my feet, a night sleeping in and airport, and a day on a place had screwed my back up royally.  Instead, I was in for another juicy surprise -- I had no mal-alignments in my spine, period.  None!  Tears of joy streamed down my face for the second time that day, and I told my PT, "I can feel myself at the end of this cycle."  She said to me, "We both knew it was really about getting our of your relationship cycle.  You were able to make the hard decisions, and they came with the greatest rewards."  And I allowed myself to feel pride, for finding the courage I needed to address the cycle of emotional pain that kept me in physical pain, and to make the decisions necessary to change my life.  And it's changing now, whew!  Changing so quickly it makes me giddy with happiness.

Maybe the loving power of the YogaSlackers group allowed my manifestations to occur so much more quickly; that idea that if you get a bunch of like-minded individuals in a creative space together, miracles will occur.  Maybe when you get a group of loving, authentic and supportive people together, people who notice each other's intrinsic worth and support what they see inside, the seeds that our spirit plants in order to manifest our dreams are fed by those energetic ribbons of love and hope and laughter, and we are able to create our dreams much more quickly, no matter how fast the world is spinning.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pain, fear, loss, love: LIFE

I've been delinquent in my postings.  It's not because I haven't been full of words, as I am always overflowing with streams of words that flow out of me like the trickles of water that overflow the banks of pregnant rivers whose banks can no longer contain the flood.  But I've contained my writing lately, dropping wet words onto large pages of multiple journals, because one is not large enough to contain within it the oozing weight of each word.  In the past few months, I have continued to have the feeling that I am being shoved forward and commanded to embrace a new life now, not when I feel ready, but right now.

This constant movement forward has been frightening, and I could feel the tendrils of fear try to wrap around my heart and hold me in place, try to freeze me into a state of not-doing, of not-moving, of resistance.  And I became afraid to write about the fear I was experiencing because, after all, I'm now Ayurvedic Anna, and I need to have it all together, right?  But as the new moon came and passed, I was pushed out of my cycle of fear, like being spewed from a tornado, and I could look back on it and think, "Now wait, I'm certainly not the only one who's been stuck in a fear cycle.  Why not write about it?"

Many of my readers know, although I have not yet said this outright, that I have recently moved on from an eight year relationship that included marriage.  I loved my husband. It's hard to love someone so deeply yet know simultaneously that the love itself is not enough.  It's harder still to clearly explain this.  And I still love him, and I find it amazing how the pain of losing someone like that can grow more intense as time passes, rather then diminish along with the conversation, connection and affection.  The decision to move on was clear, mutual, and not without serious discussion, meditation and thought.  Unfortunately, none of those things makes it any less painful.   None of those things make it any easier to bear the feeling of the floor being swept out from underneath my feet and feeling myself flailing in mid air in search of stability.  For my marriage represented my stability -- it was consistent, it was comfortable, it was secure and reassuring in many practical ways.  But too much stability can also become too heavy, can create boundaries and limitations, and can weigh you into patterns based on the comfort of the body, not the cries of the soul.  So it is ironic, then, that the qualities that lead me to leave are the same I ache for now.

Nevertheless, I am building back up.  For where is there to go but forward?  Fear and pain want to hold me back.  They want to keep me in a cycle of constant and crazy thoughts and keep me from moving forward into the role I've always wanted to fill, that of a confident, compassionate and successful healer and teacher.  Fear was keeping me from evolving from a person who held myself back to one who embraces the challenge that heart-centered integrity requires.  Fear, combined with the feeling of losing my stability, spun me around and had me wondering what to do next -- reach up and out or root down?  The answer, of course, was found in the same words I've been using this month in every one of my yoga classes.  "You have to root down into the earth first, through your connection points to the planet, and then you'll naturally feel the body rebound up toward the sky."

It was like I'd slapped myself in the face with my own words.  Isn't it amazing how fear can keep you from even taking your own advice, or realizing it was there in the first place?  As the new moon and solar eclipse came near last weekend, I could feel the shift occurring.  These issues I mentioned became more pressing, and the need to motivate into action became a buzz within my body.  Luckily, I woke Monday morning with a great sense of support that came from within.  And this feeling that, even though it will take time to build a new foundation for myself, I am fully capable of doing so and I have the support and love from the Universe that comes from staying true to myself and my path, no matter how difficult it seems.

I'm rooting down now.  I'm learning to process the pain as it comes, which is always when I least expect it, but I'm able to release it be grateful for what is, not what was.  I'm out of the fear tornado, though I'm still brushed with tendrils of fear now and then.   A friend told me that playing host to fear and worry is like praying for things you don't want, and I agree.  I know that all I can do is continue to train my mind through meditation and conscious thought to focus on what I'm grateful for and what I'm ready to create and share with others.  I'm building a foundation for my new business in Ayurveda, called "Ayurvedic Anna."  If you haven't already, please "like" my page on Facebook and contact me if you want to know more.  I'm excited about building better bridges between the Ayurveda and Yoga communities through donation-based informative talks and special discounts for yogis interested in pursuing the balance that Ayurveda can provide.  

I'm evolving in my friendships and other relationships.  I'm practicing heart-centered communication -- simple, honest and open transparency about who I am and what my needs are, and how much I care.  It's not easy; in fact it's scary as hell to break long-established communication barriers with people I love but haven't told, or care about but who don't treat me well.  It's also necessary, I've found, if I want to move forward and continue to evolve.

And I'm learning to be true to myself and my sensitive body, and get over the fact that I have a long list of needs.  I've recently admitted to myself, like a friend recently admitted to me as if she were confessing to a criminal act, "I think I'm high maintenance." Which I used to think was a bad thing.  Now I'm just realizing it's what comes with developing a steady, deep mind-body connection.

The important thing is that even through the pain, and fear, and constant change and growth, I am happy.  I can see the beauty of the process, even when it feels ugly and awkward and stumbling.  I am ready to share more, to do more, to love more, to sing more and to listen more.  I'm ready to be more of who I already am.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Change and Manifestation

It's only April, but already 2012 is living up to its expectations as a year of change.  Not in the earth shattering, natural disaster, end-of-days type of change that has been such a popular drama in the media lately.  Instead, what I've been noticing is a pattern of destruction and rebirth.  Destruction of old habits, patterns, relationships, and values that are no longer healthy or serving and creation of those that do.  Perhaps because my personal life has taken to such dramatic change as to seem drastic, I have been attracting others who are sharing similar growth.  But nearly everyone I talk to lately is going through a period of intense change.

It's been said that the only thing constant in the world is change, and that seems obvious when you sit at the ocean and watch the tides come and go, the waves build and fall, and over time, the sea cliffs fall into the ocean.  But historically, humans haven't done very well with change.  For the most part, we are creatures of habit, and many of us feel safe in carefully constructed habitual patterns and daily rituals.  And Ayurvedically, healthy routines and patterns are considered good for the body and for the mind.  Healthy routines keep us grounded, our bodies regular, and our minds calm.  But can your current routine get you through big, life changes? Is your mind malleable enough to let the routine bend to shape the new life, and are you okay with idea of destroying a routine that's not working in exchange for one that does, even if it's uncomfortable for a while?  Those are the questions I'm currently considering in my own life.

I'm a big believer in manifestation.  What I mean is that I truly believe that if you are following your dharma, or your spiritual path, or you're "in the flow," then you have available to you the Universal energy needed to create the life you want.  An analogy I like to use is to think of a hand of cards -- the dealer gives you your hand, and you didn't necessarily know what it was going to be nor what game you're playing. This is like fate; everyone has their own hand of cards.  But once you understand which game you're playing (i.e. you've found your spiritual path), then you can choose to play your cards however you like, and you can even ask for more cards if you're following the rules of the game (i.e staying on your spiritual path). This is your destiny, and the beauty of destiny is that you get to choose what it is.

What I've discovered in my own life is that I can choose to go off of my spiritual path -- to play a different game with the cards that I've been handed.  But it's often wrought with strife, and feels uncomfortable.  For the past several years, I've felt somewhat blocked in my pathway, and even though I believed I knew what was causing it, I was too afraid to make the changes necessary to get beyond the struggle.  And so I sat and I waited, and I looked for another way out (a different game to play), and I was generally unhappy, sometimes miserable, and very often felt helpless.

Most of you read my blog entries about India, and learned how my experience there really taught me (or forced me, maybe) to let go of a lot of the fear I had in my life.  When I came back to the U.S., I was no longer afraid of the repercussions of making the big changes I needed to make.  I could see how in the short term, the change would be uncomfortable -- there would be grief, sadness, loss and pain.  But I could also very clearly see beyond the short term, and although the path was undefined (because it was waiting for my creation), it was bright, brilliant, and filled my heart with joy.

I'm an information gatherer.  I love using all types of sources to gather information about this life.  Many of you know that I am clairvoyant and often use my psychic skills to read friends and clients, and I receive the same information from others.  I also see a very researched, talented, gifted and caring astrologist in Laguna who provides invaluable information.  Psychic readings are like affirming what you already know but are too afraid to admit to yourself.  Astrology is like throwing a grid over the seeming incoherentness of your life and understanding that there are patterns to the seeming madness.  Anyway, with the help of these sources, along with the guidance of my daily mediation, I realized about a month ago that I had a lot of manifestation energy available to me in order to create my future.  So I sat down and did that.  I performed a simple ritual in which I thought of all of the things I wanted less of or to get rid of all together, and I wrote them onto paper.  I showed this paper to the universe, and I burned it to ash.  Next, I wrote down all the things I wanted to create in my life in the future and I put these strips of paper into a bowl on my alter.  Today, I woke up and realized that I have many of the things I wanted for the short term, and have planted seeds for my long-term creations.  There is nothing on my list that seems out of reach, and I dream big.

My point is this -- change is coming, whether we like it or not.  Change is constant.  But when we're really in flow of life, when we understand what our path is and accept it, then we can make decisions and changes based on our heart guiding us forward.  When we live with our heart leading, the changes we make will only open more doors of opportunity for us.  It may happen slower than you'd like, or it may happen faster than you're comfortable with -- that's what happened to me.  I made one huge decision, sat down to create what I want, and it was as if everything was pushed through the "system" overnight.  Yes, creating this kind of change may create discomfort in your physical and emotional bodies.  It did mine, and so I gave myself specific time periods for dealing with those.  If I felt sad, I gave myself 30 or 60 minutes to get it all out, then I moved on.  If I wanted to eat chocolate and cheese puffs, I had a week to get it through my system before it was back to healthy food.  I gave myself permission to go to bed later and to sleep in if I needed to, and to not have an agenda besides the necessities.  But the point is that I was able to let go of what was no longer serving me, and when I did that, I could finally understand the huge amount of energy I spent being unhappy in my old situation.  I feel like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders and I have more energy to be myself, to get through my day, to be creative and witty and to give to others.

Change will happen.  And sometimes we don't get to choose the changes that happen in our lives.  What we can choose is how we act or react according to change.  And that, in itself, is very powerful.

I'll leave you with a quote that my friend gave me last November for my birthday.  I've thought of this quote often as I started making big changes in my life, and it has helped me.  I hope you like it as much as I do.  It's from Pema Chodron.

Embarking on a spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean                  to search for unknown lands . . . . Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what's waiting out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tips for a balanced Spring Season

I can feel the season starting to change and shift.  It oscillates between winter and summer, cold and warm, wet and dry, back and forth, over and over.  In the past seven days, the weather in San Diego has gone from low 60's with rain and wind, to sunny 70's and back again.  I feel like I might get whiplash just tying to keep up with the changes in weather.  Luckily, we have a name for this atmospheric cha-cha, this time when the wind blows, the snow melts, and the temperature can't make up its mind -- we call it Spring.

In Ayurveda, it's recognized that the different seasons are ruled by different doshas.  Pitta -- the dosha of fire -- rules late spring summer, as is evident by the heat we feel.  Vata -- the dosha of air and ether -- rules fall and early winter.  Vata creates motion and dryness, which we can see in the heavy winds of fall and the drying out of leaves and often, too, our skin.  Kapha -- the dosha of earth and water -- rules late winter and early spring, the season which is upon us now.

It's easiest to understand how Kapha affects both nature and our bodies by looking at a winter in the mountains.  Throughout the winter, snow accumulates on the mountains and makes many a skier and boarder giggle with pleasure.  Snow is comprised mainly of water, which is a an element comprising the Kapha dosha.  As the northern hemisphere begins to tilt back towards the sun, heating up our snowy mountains, the snow starts to melt and, with enough heat, will run off of the mountains and fill our rivers with a rushing, blue-gray runoff.  This same effect occurs in our bodies -- as springtime comes and the temperatures get warmer, the mucous that has accumulated in our body to protect our lungs from winter germs starts to liquefy and runs out of our noses, not unlike the mountain runoff.

The qualities associated with Kapha dosha, and thus springtime, are wet, cloudy, heavy, static and cold.  During the time that Kapha is dominant, we will naturally have more Kapha influence in our bodies.  We may find we have more mucous, we may tend to get mucousy colds or flu, our digestion might feel more sluggish, we may have more allergies or experience water retention.  The changes in our bodies could be subtle or great, depending on what unique blend of doshas we are and what, if any, imbalances we are experiencing right now.

If you notice they symptoms listed above, or just want to transition into spring gracefully, there are some easy dietary and lifestyle changes you can make.  Mother Nature is the great provider, and luckily for us, she provides us with the perfect foods to mitigate any Kapha symptoms.  Look no further than your local farmers market for appropriate foods for the spring season.  Choose foods that balance the qualities listed above and remember that in Ayurveda, we always treat with opposites.  So for symptoms that are wet, cloudy, heavy, static and cold, balance your body with foods and activities that are dry, clear, light, mobile and warm.  Foods that fit this category have the bitter, pungent, or astringent taste (the tastes that balance Kapha).

Foods in this category are traditionally grown North American spring-time foods -- leafy greens, asparagus, radish and other raw, pungent and bitter vegetables.  Fruits like apples, apricots, and berries are also good, and so are light grains like amaranth, quinoa and corn.  Use a few more pungent spices in your food if you're having sluggish digestion (Now is the season to eat that burrito that is too spicy for summer!).  Avoid eating too many foods that are sweet, salty and sour, which can increase symptoms related to Kapha.  These include heavy, dense and sweet foods like oats, wheat, bananas, avocados, nuts and excess salts and sweeteners.

Physical activity is a great way to move Kapha out of the body.  So grab a friend and hit the beach, go for walk, try a yoga class, or get into that new Barre craze that every one's been talking about.  Now is the time!

The same qualities that affect our bodies can also affect our mind.  When Kapha is balanced in the mind, it creates stability and the ability to weather any storm.  When it becomes out of balance, it can manifest as depression, stubbornness, lethargy, or an over-attachment to material things.  So if you notice yourself feeling a little blue or like you've adopted a couch-potato mentality for the season, recognize that it could be too much Kapha bringing you down.  Call your nearest Vata friend and make a coffee date (you know your Vata friend -- the one who talks a mile-a-minute and is always enthusiastic, bubbly, and constantly changing subjects).  Of course, if your mental blues don't go a way, be sure to call a mental health professional to help you clear out the clouds.

Have a lovely, balanced spring everyone!  Celebrate the return of sun to our hemisphere and enjoy the longer hours of sunlight (clocks turn back March 11!).  And for those of you actually taking my advice, remember -- don't go overboard.  If the farmer's market has beautiful avocados and you want one, go for it!  These tips are just guidelines for those who notice symptoms of seasonal Kapha imbalance or those who want to feel more balanced as they move through spring-cleaning season.  And, like I always say, use the 80/20 rule -- what you do 80% of the time is what matters, so give yourself the day off the rest of the 20%.

Peace, love and light,

Saturday, February 25, 2012

PDF: Public Display of Faith

Labor is for the mind what meditation is for the soul.  It calms, soothes, and focuses.  Back in the world of online social networks, career building, and TGIF, I very quickly found myself over-using my mind and turning concepts in my head inside out and outside in, over and over again.  So when I came back home from a quick stint in Utah to see my parents, I stepped out into my sunny San Diego back yard and took to our 400 square foot lawn, which had grown in height to about 8 inches, with a push mower.

Sweating is good for the body, and what is good for the body is often times good for the soul, since the body is the place where the soul resides.  So I cleaned my temple as I pushed and re-pushed the mower over the thick blades of fescue, and I let my wandering thoughts subside to a single subject -- public displays of faith.

This was something that had been tickling my mind for a few weeks.  It started, as things in my life often do these days, with my area of study, Ayurveda.  In Ayurveda, we believe that how you eat is actually more important than what you eat.  We believe in creating food sadhana, or making food and your meal times sacred.  One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by taking a few breaths before your meal and/or saying grace.

Many of us do this everyday.  Many times, groups of family or friends gather before a meal and select someone to say a prayer, to bless the food to be eaten.  For many, this is a natural time of thanks and a process that is so familiar it's almost become mundane.  For me, grace had always been a nice idea, but one that had brought up feelings of resentment, anxiety, and unease.  It reminded me of the high school locker room before a volleyball game, where I was required to bow my head and pray with the others to a very specific god in a very specific way that seemed foreign to me, especially in a school setting.  No one ever asked me if this was my belief, or gave me the option to opt out.  The same was said for meals with extended family, large school groups, and even my high school reunion.  The prayers seemed to take on a stale quality to me, as if they had been repeated too many times, and as if the prayer itself was separate from the person giving it -- as if they had forgotten the reason for the prayer itself.  It didn't work for me, and it still doesn't.

But that doesn't mean that I didn't want to express gratitude to the Great Unknown, or the Universal Spirit, or the Ultimate Complexity, or God (however you want to say it), in my own way.  And so I struggled against this Ayurvedic rule, feeling silly that I didn't know which words to use, and often times simply taking a few deep breaths with the thought, "Thank you," in my mind.

In India, this attitude of gratitude for everything around us was prevalent, especially in the north.  Surrounded by my close Ayurvedic friends and teachers, I became very comfortable with my meal time grace.  I took a cue from a friend I admire (what can I say, I like her style), and rub my hands together to activate my palm chakras, then hover my hands over my food and imagine gold cosmic energy running through my body and into my food.  I give my thanks in a way that feels good to me, and in a way that makes me feel connected.  It feels good, and it does change how meal time feels to me.

On my first flight leaving India, a flight from Kerala to Delhi, I sat next to an older Indian man who didn't seem very talkative, which was fine, as I was lost in my recent memories and fighting against the tears that leaving brought.  The flight attendants served us dinner (yes, in India you still get free meals on flights!), and I had my moment of grace.  I ate, enjoying the spicy food and recognizing that it might be the last Indian food from India that I get.  After I was finished and my tray had been cleared, the man turned towards me and asked me a question.  I don't know remember what he asked, because after a few sentences it was followed with, "I knew that you would be a nice person to speak with because before you ate, you thought of God."

I was flabbergasted.  I mean, I've just made the step to feel comfortable praying in public, or making what I will call a Public Display of Faith, or PDF, and the first person I sit next to besides my good friends notices and strikes up a conversation with me because of it.  Then, not two full days back in San Diego, I take myself out to eat lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant.  The waiter brings my vegetable kabob, and I close my eyes and give my thanks, trying to be just quick enough to feel relaxed and connected.  As soon as my eyes open and I reach for my silverware, a man two tables over shouts, "Hey! Excuse me!  I like that.  I never do that!"  And then he turns to his friends and continues to speak loudly.

I find it interesting what a response this PDF receives, positive or negative.  When I was home in Utah, I continued my practice with my food, and realized afterwards that it was received awkwardly, with hints of hesitation from my family.  It also makes my partner feel awkward and a bit anxious.  I find this interesting, because I, too, have had this kind of reaction to PDF, and still do whenever politicians use faith as an answer to a question that requires logic or intellect instead.  And I've found that in most cases of negative response, the person still likes the idea of giving thanks and giving gratitude, but it just triggers something inside of them in a negative way.  I think I understand, because I've seen it often in myself and my friends -- those seeking asylum outside of a religion that left scars.  I think that sometimes, in the spirit of giving our children a faith to hold onto and to teach them moral codes of conduct, we shove religion down their throats like branding irons and scar their tender flesh of curiosity with fear and false promises.  These scars heal slowly, if at all.

I'm curious as to what others think.  What do you think about public displays of faith, given that they are not targeting you nor requiring your participation in any way, and that they are obviously a conscious effort to connect, not a flashy show of a religious preference?  How do you feel when you see someone give a few moments of silent thanks before a meal, or in another situation?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lessons learned, next steps, and pictures for recap: India, Part 7.

She has left her mark on me, that great country called India.  I spent 30 or so hours traveling on February 6th (it's amazing how one day can stretch into two) and made it back to San Diego safe and sound.  I was proud of myself for getting unpacked, washing clothes, and organizing my imports before falling into bed around 9:30pm.  I slept heavily, but woke completely disoriented several times during the night.  I couldn't remember where I was, because it feels so strange to be back home.

My husband was so excited to see me that he wanted to throw me right back into the world of bills and schedules, taxes and house keeping.  I had to explain that I just wasn't ready for that -- and not just because of the jet lag, but because India taught me how much more simple life could be.  He is learning to be patient with me, for which I am grateful, because as I woke today to realize I really was in the U.S. and not in the sweltering heat of Kerala, I burst into tears.  The travel day came back to me in a big whoosh and I realized just how far away from India I now was.

I can blame the tears on hormones and jet lag, but I can't hide the fact that I feel a huge hole in the center of my chest, like a large part of me is still listening to the monkeys, sitting on the bank of the Ganges, drinking chai with a new friend and riding on the back of a scooter.  The trip transformed me.  I went as someone with fear stored in every crevice of my body, seeking to rid myself of it as I searched to find a sense of belonging and connection in the world.  I left with a new found confidence, a confidence not ego-based but based in the heart, and as I walked the streets of Kerala in that last week I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging.  I felt as though I had finally found myself, like I had finally stepped into the person I was so seeking to become, and even as the heat bore down and caused beads of sweat to pool in my lower back, my soul sighed, "Finally."

The last night I was in Kerala I felt assured and confident that I had learned what I needed to come home and fulfill the tasks awaiting me; to continue to live my dharma.  And that I would be so much stronger along this path because I had been learning what it takes to live with an open heart.  Now that I've traveled back half way around the planet to my home, a new challenge awaits me -- to overcome any grief or sadness from leaving India and to apply this new found heart-confidence into my life here.

I talked a lot in the blog about the sadness that resided inside me, in my heart, which would creep out into the blue-gray pigment of my eyes.  That sadness starting lifting the first night it was brought to my attention, back in Rishikesh, through conscious processing, and with every moment of conscious awareness I let it seep out into the Mother below my feet, and I filled the remaining space with the thriving life force of India and her people.  My first impression of India was of a place in chaos, with people and animals, trash and waste, food and water all mixed together in a way that made no sense in the world that was so carefully constructed back home.  But as I began to watch, and to speak to the people, to accept their generous smiles, and to learn from them, I realized that what I had perceived as chaos was simply a manifestation of so many different souls living together and allowing their differences to exist as they each tried in their separate ways to fulfill their individual path on earth.

One of the many differences between my home and India is that in India, people and their differences seem to tolerate if not embrace each other as they coexist side-by-side, creating colorful and sometimes contradictory living situations.  In my home, survival often means setting aside the eccentric or seemingly mundane in order to fit into a carefully constructed box labeled, "Accepted Existence." For example, in India, a man may carry heavy jars of water, one after the other, all day long, to a tank on the roof of a house so that a tourist may take a shower.  But he is not ashamed -- that is his job, it makes him strong, and he takes money home at the end of the day to feed his family.  He is respected.  At my home, and in my experience, jobs requiring less critical thinking and more brawn are seen as inferior and not strived for.  Heaven forbid I wield a hammer all day long, content, and not strive to become the lead builder.  Heaven forbid I go to college for a degree I find interesting and then choose to serve food for a living.  Or more personally, heaven forbid I go to school for years, accumulating awards that prove how well I over-think the most intricate of scientific topics, and in the end, I teach people how to breath, move, eat, and eliminate properly.

India showed me that either path is okay.  It was something my soul knew, but the fear inside my body kept me from understanding and embracing it because I was so scared that if I chose the path inside my heart, one that may be seen as "inferior" in the world I live in, then I wouldn't be accepted or respected.  India has shown me that the only path to happiness, the only path worth living, is the one that's in my heart.  India embraced me with open arms and showed me that all paths are accepted -- you simply must learn to make sense of the colorful chaos your choices create as they blow up the box around you.  Because that box I am talking about -- that box I find myself in so often at home -- is created by fear of loving what is different.  Those walls of fear are constructed around our hearts so that the ego can take up more space, and say confidently what life should and shouldn't be.  This box created of fear is essentially a creation of life void of an open heart.

I have a lot of work to do.  I don't mean to imply by the words above that my heart has opened and, hallelujah, I can stop working on it now.  The work has just begun, and India showed me glimpses of what the true happiness created from an open heart could feel like all the time.  I had these glimpses as I walked down those streets in Kerala, smiling greetings to those I met; when I rode down narrow streets on a scooter behind a new friend, feeling freedom in every pore of my being; when I looked into the eyes of new, native friends who had never lived a day with walls of fear surrounding him and wondered curiously where mine came from; when I stood on the bank of the Ganges and felt love and spirit swell my heart and I embraced my two soul sisters, now my Ganga sisters; and when I boarded the plane to go home, reluctance in my step and a heaviness in my body, and felt a presence come to me that said, "Go now, it's time for you to learn to live your lesson.  But keep coming back; I will always welcome you."

I'll be posting more pictures on Facebook and on here, and I'm sure I'll be writing more about India as the lessons learned weave their way into my life in San Diego.  Here are some pictures to recap some of the experiences had on the trip.  Enjoy.

 Early in the trip, near Vrindavan at Dr. Gupta's Ayurvedic Center.  Those are his medicinal gardens in the back ground.  Preparing for a sacred fire ceremony or puja.

 Overlooking the Ganges River, second day in Rishikesh.  

 Hand-stamped bindi on the streets of Rishikesh.

 Our friend Puneet, who made my sapphire ring, shared Tulsi tea with us, read our palms, and gave us advice on the meaning and practice of a happy life.

 My blue sapphire ring.  Astrologically, blue sapphire helps to increase energy and heart opening.  The girls were laughing at me, because every time I put this ring on, I punched my fist into the air and sung, "She-rah, princess of power!"  Doesn't it remind you of that?  Haha, maybe I'm getting old.....

 My man, Shiva.  :)  This is the amazing marble Shiva statue along the bank of the Ganges just outside the ashram we stayed at.  He's dressed up here for a ceremony.  Isn't he lovely?

 Our friend at Agarwal Mala Emporium who taught us Tibetian Singing bowl vibrational healing, and who read our chakras very accurately.  We had chai with him many times.

 Scooter ride into the countryside near Kochin, state of Kerala.

 Feeling good in Kerala.

 The girls and I on our last night together in Kerala.

   My friend, who drove me around on a scooter and taught me how to be a proper Kerala girl.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Matters of the Heart: India, Part 6

"Thank you," I say, putting on my sunglasses as I step out of the shadows of the cool shop and onto the hot, muggy street.  I may have just overpaid for silk and silver, but the man at the shop was so friendly to me that I don't really care.  And to my credit, I bargained a full 25% off my total price.

We had driven around the state of Kerala the day before, stopping in the early morning at an elephant training center, where we watched one large and three smaller elephants being scrubbed with coconut husks in the river.  They laid on their sides and allowed the small, strong men to scrub every inch of them.  I enjoyed watching, until I saw the chains on their legs, and how they scratched at them.  After the bath, we followed them to the training center, which looked more like a dusty, deserted girls camp, where we bought a ticket for a few hundred rupees and then stood around confused, trying to figure out what it bought us.  We ended up seeing some baby elephants in cages, staring out at us with big, dark eyes, and I became more and more upset at seeing these graceful animals caged up.  Without the proper language to ask questions, I was at a loss and more than happy to load the car to our next stop, the waterfall.

The ride to the waterfall was bumpy and windy, and the style of Indian driving, with it's jerky, stop and go motion, wasn't helping my breakfast stay down.  But the falls were spectacular, so I'm glad I soldiered on.  A large river plummeted several hundred feet to pools below, and the mist from the drop could be felt from the river's edge, another hundred feet away perhaps.  The short trail let us out at the top of the falls, where we took some pictures and then walked up river, where a lesser current mixed with several tiny waterfalls made a perfect place for a dip.

We were some of the only foreigners at the falls; it seemed more of a destination for locals.  Many of the men and children were already in the cool river water.  Just as we found a space to get in, we watched four local women, giggling as they lowered themselves in the water, fully clothed.  Now came the tricky part.  We had the largest bathing suits found in our country, but it wasn't nearly enough fabric to stop the stares of the locals.  Confidence comes in groups, however, so as a unit we waded into the river and sat down in the shallows, just our heads and shoulders above water.  The coolness was pure heaven.  "Just throw me a beer, will you?" I joked.  Pretty soon, we had an audience.  About 20 of the men found places in the water about 40 feet from where we were, and others gawked from the shore.  Most were shy, but two were brave enough to trample over in their boxer briefs to ask for a picture with us.  We granted one each, then sent them along.  It was an interesting experience, to say the least, and I wouldn't try swimming without the safety of a group. I couldn't help think how tame the scene would seem back home, and what would happen if these men got a taste of, say, a beach in Brazil with all those curvy women in teeny tiny bikinis.

Back to today.  Malas.  I promised my friend that I would bring her back malas and meditation scarves.  Right now, I'm wishing I would have bought them in Rishikesh, where the beaded necklaces hung from every store window and cart.  But I knew I would be flying on a small plane, and that I'd have to pay for every kilo of goodies I bought (as it was, I paid extra for the six kilos my bag weighed over the 25 kilo limit).  I didn't realize that I was stepping out of an area largely Hindu in population (where malas are abundant) and flying to a colony characterized by the Christian faith.  I haven't seen one mala since I got here.  Not one.

The heat is sweltering and I'm just about ready to give up, when I realize I'm lost.  Where was that tea house, the TeaPot?  These streets all fold together in a pattern like origami that looks the same from every direction.  I turn around and walk in the direction that I came.  Maybe I can find my way back to the homestay, at least, I think.  Just then, I come upon a familiar face.  Well, familiar glasses at least.

Two nights ago at dinner, our friend from the north, Danielle, introduced us to her new friend Steve, a local in Kochin.  While we were eating dinner, his two friends showed up to say hello.  I only remember his one friend because his black hair billowed out away from his head in a curly, messy, wind-coiffed afro.  He was wearing standard Western clothes -- baggy jeans and a bright t-shirt, and thick, yellow rimmed sunglasses with yellow lenses.  "I like your hair," I had said.  "And those glasses, they are like the ones that singer from Bollywood wears, right?"  He had smiled shyly and said, "Yes, I think I know what you mean."

Right about now I was just happy to see anything familiar, so I honed in on those glasses like a lighthouse in the fog.  "Hi!" I said to him.  He looked confused, so I continued, "You're Steve's friend; I met you at dinner the other night."  I took off my sunglasses.

"Oh, hello!"  he said.  "I remembers you now.  I remember a your eyes."

"Yes," I said, "They stick out here, don't they."

"No, no, not stick!" he said.  "Very beautiful."

I laughed.  I asked him where I could find a mala.  I explained what one was, because he didn't know what I was talking about, which I found odd, but whatever.  He told me he knows a place that might have one.  "You scooter okay?"  he asked.  Hmmm, I'd seen women riding around on the backs of scooters.  Sometimes, an entire family of five fit on one. The women always sat side saddle.  I was wearing a new, white cotton dress and a gauzy scarf of my friend's.  Well, why not?  I thought.  If I've learned anything here, it's to surrender to what the day has to offer.  "Sure," I said.  "I can ride on your scooter."

I hopped on the back of the white scooter, placed one hand on his shoulder and one hand on the small wrack on the back and we took off.  He took me to a jewelry store similar to the ones I'd been looking in already.  "This place won't have it," I said. "They just have gemstone necklaces."  And I was right.  I tried to explain in more detail what I was looking for, and we scooted along again.  Again, no luck.  I explained some more. "Oh!" he said, and I could see the light bulb go off.  "Like 'shanti shanti'?" he said, and giggled.  I didn't know why it was funny, but replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!" 

"Hmm, not those around here.  But we go to the city.  I drive, you look." 

Again, I climbed on the scooter and off we went.  The Kochin and Fort Kochin area are very similar to San Diego geologically.  They are on the western coast of southern India, and there are many bays that separate different pieces of land from each other.  We rode over many bridges, through wide crowded streets and narrow crowded alleys.  We stopped at many stores, but none had the malas.

We talked as we drove.  I was amazed that someone I ran into on the street would take his afternoon to shuttle me around town, looking for what I needed.  He asked me how my country was different from India, and I replied, "Well, for starters, I don't know many people in America who would have spent the afternoon helping me." 

"Why not help?"  he asked.

"Well, people are busy, I guess.  We have different priorities there, different things are important.  Like people's jobs are very important," I replied.

"But helping people important.  Making happy the people, that is important," he insisted.  "I know that if I help you and you smile and are happy, then God make me happy and show me more the way," he said. "And God not want the people to be sad, He like the smiling the people," he added.

This young man, who I learned later was only 24 years old, understood and lived this truth everyday.  This idea, of fulfilling your dharma or God-appointed service to the world, is one that many of us, me included, are searching for.  To have the courage to live this truth everyday.  Many of us strive to do this, to serve others and to follow the life path that is true in our heart, but so often we are distracted.  We are distracted by all the choices, rules, regulations, and obligations that our culture provides.  For example, if our places had been reversed and it was he who asked my help, chances are I would be obligated to work a certain number of hours, or have an appointment I simply couldn't change, or just not think it's important to help a stranger.  The kindness of his time -- it was a gift, really -- was so moving that I thanked him endlessly, but he only seemed embarrassed by my gratitude.  "I was only doing what is the right," he said.

When we realized there were just no malas to be found, he drove me into the country side to show me authentic Kerala culture.  Here, they've taken a river and separated it into large, man-made ponds that small, sturdy village houses back up to.  He took me to his mother's house and showed me the pond in front where he swims, and the one in back where he fishes.  His family was out, otherwise I would have loved to meet them.

Frightening as it was at times, riding on the scooter was exhilarating and I felt an immense sense of freedom.   Others might think it foolish -- jumping onto a motorbike with a relative stranger, none of my friends aware of my absence, and weaving through dangerous roads -- but I felt so safe and confident in the presence of my new friend that I did not feel afraid at all.

We spoke about a lot of things, that day and the next, when he drove me to the nice beach about 20km away.  "Can I ask you one thing?" he said.

"Sure," I said.  "You can ask me anything at all."

"When I met you before, at the dinner, and now today on the street, and I see ah your eyes.  And your eyes they are very beautiful.  But it is like your eyes are a there is a saddness in them.  In your heart.  Are you sad?"

So he makes three.  Three people here have looked into my eyes, or my chakras, or read my palm and told me they see the sadness that I know is there.  The issue of the sadness aside now, I find it simply incredible that the people here, the good hearts, can see what is truly inside.  I am around people at home everyday -- friends, family, teachers, students -- and no one else sees.  It makes it so easy to disappear when everyone is blind, so easy to become distracted with pretty things and not take the time to fix what's important, what's inside your heart.  That same thing is so very difficult here, because people see.  I almost feel I like I've been transported to Pandora and everyone is walking saying, "I see you."  Because they do here.  Not everyone, surely, and just as surely my soul has drawn these people to me to teach me what I need to grow further spiritually, but these people, who's lives are brilliantly simple and so much less cluttered than ours, have more space in their heads and their hearts to see what we can't.

As I ride on the back of the scooter, people look at me and a smile plays on their lips.  I smile in return, and their lips turn to a grin and they wave.  I wave back and they laugh.  Crowds of boys walking home from school erupt in cheers and laughter at the site of us, and groups of school girls wave and shout.  I feel like a celebrity.  People are so happy to see me riding on the back of a local boy's scooter.  I can't help but think that if he were to come to my country, with his caramel skin, eyes like pools of melted dark chocolate,  and crazy, wind blown hair, people may not take notice.  And if he were to walk down the streets of a small neighborhood in states less liberal, like my home state of Utah, people may shut their doors, afraid of his difference.  And in doing so would miss the best part of my new friend, his heart, which is so good and so pure it almost makes me cry.

He says he has never met a U.S. girl like me before -- one with an honest heart.  I tell him that there are many, many U.S. girls and boys with good hearts, but it's a big country, and often even those with good hearts get distracted by pretty things.  I am wary -- I think he has fallen in love with me, or with his idea of who I am, this boy with a pure heart, and now I must use mine to ease his pain about my departure.  So I tell him that it is part of my dharma -- to come to India, to learn, to grow, to meet new friends and ride on his scooter, and to go back home to share what I have learned.  And I tell him that we shall surly remain great friends, and that whenever people ask me about India, I will tell them what he has taught me about really living -- not just talking about living -- with a selfless and open heart.