On Being “Beach Ready”

My experience of applying to teach yoga at various fitness studios over the past few months has given me a lot to think about in terms of the pressure our culture and fitness industry is placing on people to look a certain way and how much extra work they need to be doing to achieve this certain look. I find the phrase ‘beach ready” to be quite striking. It suggests that there is a certain standard of appearance that must be met before it is acceptable for one to appear in a bathing suit in public and sends the message that unless you obtain this standard of perfection, you should feel embarrassed about being seen. I’m not surprised that I wasn’t hired to teach at this particular pilates and barre studio, as I feel that what I teach in a yoga class is sending the exact opposite message- that you are perfect and worthy exactly as you are. Teaching yoga is not about being a drill sergeant. It is about providing a space for people to find a sense of quiet and stillness- to go inside and start listening to what their body has to tell them. It is about self-exploration, self-transformation, and ultimately self-acceptance. It provides as much physical and mental challenge as the practitioner wants, but only when the student is ready and only when they, themselves, WANT to go there. It teaches you to stop competing with others and with yourself and to stop the process of comparing, which only results in a feeling of lack. And it allows space to let go of the things that are holding you back- things that are only weighing you down and keeping you from fulfilling your potential. Yoga builds strength, flexibility, balance, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of calm and internal peace. This state of calmness balances out the body’s hormonal system. In this space, the body can start to care for itself. I believe that sending the message that you must do this and this and this to achieve some type of standard that may not even be obtainable for your own particular body only results in adding more stress to one’s life and tells you that you need to be something other than you are.

I’ve lived in this type of state for the majority of my life. It’s not an enjoyable place to be. I can always find things that I don’t like about my appearance. I’ve tried no carb diets for weeks at a time in the past in order to lose my excess fat and found it not only to be a miserable experience, but an extremely unsustainable place to be. If you are forcing yourself to do anything, you will not be able to maintain it. And not only will you go back to your former ways, you will likely over-compensate for what you were denying yourself. Now you’ve only managed to double your self-hatred. You not only hate the way that you look, but you failed at what you sought to do.

After the winter I had, in which I did NO walking, and in which the only movement I did was yoga, I am surprised at how my body looks. And for the first time in my life, I feel satisfied with it. At the oldest age I’ve ever been, I finally feel free to lie on the beach in a bikini. Am I the thinnest I’ve ever been? No. I enjoy chocolate and ice cream and scones and coffee too much. They make me feel happy. But because I am not restricting myself from the foods I enjoy, my body is able to stay at a sustainable weight and I still fit into my small clothes. I realized that even if I lost all of my excess fat, I will still be able to come up with a long list of the things I don’t like about my body. (My ribs stick out, I look like a boy, etc. etc). And what good is that doing for me? I will NEVER ever be in a state of “perfection”. That simply doesn’t exist. So instead, why not appreciate everything that I do like about myself in this very moment?

Yoga builds whole body strength, but I believe it is the effect of the calming hormones that do the most to keep the body in a state of homeostasis. I definitively know from my life experiences that weight loss or maintenance is not a matter of “calories in, calories out”. Hormones play a huge role in this regulation. And when you learn to start appreciating all that your body does for you, and learn to start accepting yourself as you are, you stop the warring with yourself and the need to try to be something that you are not, which only serves to ramp up stress, self-hatred, and hormones that actually keep fat on. Who wants to be around someone that hates themselves and who is waiting for the day they look a certain way (which probably will never come) to feel happy?

I am not a fan of these contraptions that count your “steps” and your calories. And I really don’t like how people are encouraged to post their results on social media so they can be compared with the results of their friends. So you set a goal for yourself and don’t achieve it, or see that your friends outdid you. Now what? You’re only going to feel bad about yourself. And what is the point of that? That feeling is going to prevent you from enjoying life and it is going to create a feeling of distance and separation from those around you. Can you actually go to the beach and enjoy the feeling of the sun and the sound of the waves if you are worried that you don’t look good enough? And who exactly do you think you don’t look good enough for? Anyone who truly loves you loves you for who you ARE- not because of the way you look. They love you for the things you do, for your open heart and laughter, for the way you are there for them when they need you. This notion of needing to obtain a certain kind of standard of looking like an air-brushed, photoshopped model is preventing people from living and enjoying the present moment (which quickly turns into an entire lifetime).

A little while ago, I saw a posting from the owner of the barre and pilates studio that urged her clients to take as many different types of classes as possible in order to achieve the best results: “cardio, core, strength, barre burn, weights, circles, bands, intervals, flow, intensity, aerobic and anaerobic”. My head was spinning just reading that! Who needs that kind of pressure in a world where we are extremely over-taxed as it is?! I found it interesting that she ended up hiring another yoga instructor about a month later, billed the classes as “restorative power yoga” (which makes absolutely no sense, as those two things are the exact opposite of one another) and then saw that after a couple of weeks, yoga was completely eliminated from the schedule.

 

I think that if we can just start learning to slow down, to do less, and to start listening to our own internal needs, we will start gravitating to a more naturally healthy place for ourselves. We will start to do things that we enjoy and that make us feel good. We will live in a more sustainable way. And if we start appreciating who we are now, we will end up positively influencing the people we interact with. I believe that having compassion and acceptance for ourselves is what will create the most positive change in the world. Compassion spreads. No one connects with “perfection”. Perfection doesn’t exist in the first place. We connect with openness, vulnerability, sharing, and understanding. We connect with “real”. We connect with love.

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A little wisdom from my Monday night yoga class

At the moment, I have four teachers from whom I take yoga classes. Each of them offers something unique and special. What I love about David is the bits of wisdom that he offers throughout class. He has a gift for the way in which words roll off his tongue that are so powerful and true that they strike me to my core. (I really wish I had this ability!) He also makes me laugh a lot, which I find just as therapeutic as moving and opening up the body. Monday night was his first class since returning home from his teaching overseas on a yoga retreat, followed by a yoga festival in Vermont. I had missed his humor and personality while he was away for those three weeks, but after having already taken one physically intense class before his, I was in a quiet and distant mood as his class began.

About halfway through the class, we did a standing “block exercise” that we sometimes do to help our bodies learn proper alignment for poses such as handstand. In this exercise, we place one yoga block between our thighs and squeeze it to help align our lower bodies and then we place our palms around the sides of the second block and extend it straight in front of us as if offering someone a gift. While we do this, David usually reminds us that if someone is offering us a gift of their anger, we can simply choose not to accept it. My eyes drew toward his as we extended our blocks in anticipation of this reminder. At times in the past, when presented with a “gift” of someone’s anger, I would only remember this scenario after the fact and wish that I had remembered it in that moment. If I had, I wouldn’t have wasted my time feeling badly about something that I did not need to. Last week, however, I was presented with such a gift and I very swiftly did not accept it and told the person it was time for me to leave the situation. The things I am learning are starting to take hold!

David saw my eyes on him as he began to speak. “Think of the block as what you offer to the world. You can choose to fill it with cynicism, bitterness, and hatred. And then you can try and give it to Wendy. But she’s not going to take it. She’s going to say, ‘I ain’t got time for that!’ and then you will have to keep it and it will become very heavy. Or you can choose to fill it with love and kindness and then you can take as much as you want because it is self-generating and will always produce more.” (!)

How perfect- the timing of his words, his choosing me as an example. (Okay, I also really love how he personally acknowledges me in most of his classes! Nothing feels better to me than being seen). In my head, I strongly agreed with him. He’s right. I don’t have time for that. And I made that perfectly clear last week and wasted no time thinking or feeling anything differently. I’m making progress and it feels good. I am so fortunate to be reminded of these extremely important lessons in life!

At another point in class, he asked us to change the interlace of our hands, which is another common alignment request to help bring balance to the body. (I remember the first time he asked us to do this when I started taking classes at this studio three years ago and how embarrassingly difficult this seemingly simple task was for me back then. Now, it is so easy!). He asked us, “If that was an extremely neurologically challenging task for you, what is going to happen when you get into a relationship?!” Great question!! Another pearl of truth! He then told us that that simple action of changing our regular pattern reminds us that there are many other possibilities… I immediately became filled with hope! When you release yourself from a situation that diminishes you, you instantly open up a whole lot of space to fill with something more positive, loving, and inspiring!

I feel so lucky that I get to attend yoga classes at this amazing studio and because I know that not everyone can, I thought I would share these little reflections with you!

Thank you, David Vendetti!!

“Try Harder or Walk Away: The Decision”

By Rebecca Lammersen

“One of the hardest decisions you will ever face in life, is choosing whether to try harder or walk away.”
~ Anonymous

Try harder or walk away—this is the only choice we make in every moment of life. We either try harder or we walk away from being present, loving ourselves, loving another, pursuing our passions or completing a task. We choose to continue doing, thinking, saying, listening, eating and being what we are, or we break up with it.

There is only one way to do everything, completely or not at all. If we half-ass life, we cheat our truth, stop growing, we suffer.

Imagine if an architect half-assed plans for a building, or an aerospace engineer half-assed the construction of an airplane. The building couldn’t stand on its own and the plane couldn’t fly. We are the architects of our lives. We have to devote entirely to our project or walk away from the drawing pad until we are willing to do the work.

The choice to stay or leave, determines whether we free ourselves or we suffer. How do we make the “right” decision?

We learn how to discern between the doubt of the mind and the surety of the spirit.

The discernment is in the volume. The mind is loud and the spirit is quiet. We have become accustomed to listening to the loud voice, because it takes no effort. It takes practice to hear the quietest voice, and discipline to listen to her. Once we listen, the real work begins, the challenge—we are required to act courageously, as we brace ourselves for the whippings of sadness, longing and unease. Our freedom is dependent on courage. Courage is conceived through faith. We have courage because our faith whispers that peace exists, even if we can’t see her.

Peace carries freedom as a gift. Freedom is presented when we entrust in our choice, and endure the feelings and conditions that hitch a ride with the strength of our spirit. If we remain indecisive, we live in stagnation, in the land of half asses.

Right now, I am struggling. I have my ear cupped to the jailed door of my spirit. I can decipher the words, but I’m scared. I’m scared to unlock the door and face her as she looks me in the eyes and tells me exactly what I already know. I don’t want to listen, because I know there lies an uncertainty, what’s next?

Predictability is my pal, but she is also my captor and torturer. She is the accomplice of my mind. She feeds me my meals, allows me to bathe. She may even crack a smile, but the reality is she has locked me up, pinned me against the door, knife in hand. I remember being here before, feeling this piercing pain as my mind stabs my spirit. My spirit is fighting back, grasping for the knife, pleading for her life, holding her wound and begging for mind to leave.

Life is one struggle after the next, a battery of choices every day, “Do I stay or do I leave?” We liberate ourselves when we understand our emancipation is granted when we abide by one commandment: Thou shall not struggle against struggle.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy: Do not make more struggle. We are released from bondage when we know, regardless if we stay or go, we have the choice to stay or go. We are in charge of our own suffering. We can walk away from it when we wish.

Struggle is the wrinkle of life. We can not escape it, but we can honor it, see it as part of us, as our counterpart and coexist. Peace is acceptance of struggle. How do we create peace? We don’t create more struggle, we acknowledge we will struggle.

How do we not make more struggle? We listen. We listen to the quiet voice, we tune out the loud one, we grab the knife and crawl out the door. We patch up the wound and devote to our recovery as exhausting and painful as it may be.

I have the ability to nurture my wounds, heal from them and become stronger and healthier than before.

How do I know I will be stronger than before?

Because I’ve freed myself more times than I can count. Life is a series of imprisonments that deliver us to our next liberation. Experience and practice is our liberator. If we choose to learn from our experiences of struggle and only listen for the quiet voice, the duration of our imprisonments shorten and our liberation lengthens.

I’m not free right now. I’m in the knife fight. I’m still deciding. As I struggle with struggle, I know I can make the easy decision or I can make the decision that will challenge me, that will help me grow.

The choice to follow the voice of our spirit takes effort, determination and tenacity. It is easy to be defeated, to be a coward and listen to our mind. Honoring our spirit takes time, patience, faith and trust.

Struggle is indestructible and inevitable. Our response to it dictates our quality of life. The bouts of suffering will lessen as we learn how to win the battle, how swiftly to grab the knife, unlock the bars and walk through the gates to peace as we hold hands with struggle.

I may be imprisoned right now, but I’ve learned from my experience. I’ll be free soon, I just have to stop half-assing it and answer the question, “Do I try harder or do I walk away?”

“Blessed Be…”

The other day, a friend of mine made a heart out of pieces of her beautiful sea glass collection. “A sea glass heart!”, I suddenly realized, as I was thinking about it during a walk. I was instantly reminded of this piece of writing that I came across several months ago, which I really love.

By Jeanette LeBlanc

Blessed be your longing. Your endless ache. Your sharp crystal shatter. Your sea glass heart.

Blessed be the long, slow slide into desire. The swift plunging wound to the heart. The bleeding out onto the kitchen floor.

Blessed be the fierce of want and the howl of despair and the swan dive of surrender.

Blessed be the indignation of right and the never more naked of wrong.

Blessed be your strong smooth body and your roadmap of scars and brittle bones that give way under the weight of lives unlived.
Blessed be the unmet passion, the relentless boredom, the absolute certainty of regret.

Blessed be the sweet laughter. The hard fuck. The bitter fight. The soft of impossible forgiveness.

Blessed be the restless seeker. The relentless urgency. The unanswered call.

Blessed be the giving up. The hope unraveled. The void at the end. The clenched fists and the desperate grasping and the way it all slides away when the time comes.

Blessed be your trembling breath and your strong knees. Blessed be your siren song and your briny tears and your frantic prayer.

Blessed be your violin body, your electric hipbone, your staircase ribs.
Blessed be your slaughtered dreams and your cynical projection. Blessed be your fire of initiation and your ritual of comfort. Blessed be your secret shame. Blessed be your whispered confession. Blessed be your primal roar.

Blessed be the rejection. The hollowed out, disregarded heart. Blessed be the end of the rope, the absence of expectation, the way it all gives way eventually.

Blessed be the blood and guts and gore of it all.
Blessed be the emptiness of lust and the brutal havoc of love and the way peace grows in between cracks in cement.

Blessed be the dirty street corner hustle and the pretty surface of things and where they meet in the most sacred center.

Blessed be the harsh divinity. The winged flight. The salt skin. The symphony of lust.

Blessed be the holy and the worship. Blessed be the sacred mother. Blessed be the faithless edges. Blessed be the ritual of liturgy and agnostic faith.

Blessed be the profane and the provocation. Blessed be the solitary pilgrimage and the long journey home. Blessed be the one who contains herself.
Blessed be the truth that demands reckoning and the goodbye that wrenches long held secrets from behind closed lips.

Blessed be the sucker punch bruises. Blessed be smooth slide of sun behind the mountains. Blessed be the wise desert and the pounding sea.

Blessed be the sweet swell of words. The silent spaces between bodies. The ragged sigh of breath on bone.

Blessed be the poet and the poem and the one between them who has no words of her own. Blessed be the plagiarism, the thievery, the rash disregard for origin, the gratitude for the beginning of things.
Blessed be our free fall into destiny. Our slow burn. Our consuming fire. Blessed be the breaking and becoming. Blessed be the ugly. Blessed be the sweet sin. Blessed be the rage. Blessed be the grace.

Blessed be. Blessed be. Blessed be.

In the end, all words are just another way to say Amen.

Stomach Update

My stomach/intestines have still not recovered from my experience on the PCT. There have been many, many days since I returned home in which I have been rendered incapacitated in tremendous pain. The only thing I can do is lie down and sleep for hours. This pain aids in keeping my energy and activity level down and doesn’t help with writing or any other creative endeavors. Yesterday was one such day. Lately, these days have been occurring about once every 7-10 days (lasting from 1-4 days) with days of lesser pain in between. I still have not had a normal bowel movement since sometime last May- over one year ago! Sometimes, I can barely manage to walk the couple of flat beach miles near my home. Once, after making it home, I almost couldn’t stand up to boil water to make some ginger tea!
I took a month of probiotics with 80 billion strains (“critical colon”) in March and after that did not improve anything, I tried another month of 150 billion strains (“mega potent”). (These doses make the ones I bought from the drugstore on the PCT laughable- no wonder they did not do anything!) I also tried acupuncture, as recommended by another hiker on the PCT. It helped her fully recover from an amoeba infection that she had struggled with for 2 years. Since there is an acupuncturist that offers community acupuncture across the street from me, I finally decided to try it for about 2 months.
Unfortunately, none of these things worked for me (a result I am very familiar with!). I am going to give the probiotics route one more try by increasing the dose to 200 billion strains (which is more than the body can even handle in one dose!). I was not exaggerating when I said that the antibiotics given to me on the PCT destroyed my entire system!
I still can’t believe how I was able to hike the PCT in that state, with the amount of pain I was in and without the ability to eat! Every time I read a blog in which the hikers are talking about all of their food cravings and about how they can’t eat enough, I remember how I was denied the ability to eat at all for four of the five months I was out there! Some days, I remember where I was on the PCT last year, and my first memory was how much pain I was in that day.
Before I can even think about another hike, I have to get this problem under control. I can’t even live regular life like this!

I’ve also been struggling with a few other physical ailments in addition to my digestive system. For the past several years, my PMS symptoms have been drawn out to 2 weeks in advance of my period with pre-bleeding and cramping. This means that I experience one week without bleeding per month. Not a pleasant way to live! My acupuncturist says that is definitely stealing some of my energy away from me. I did see a doctor about this before I left for the PCT and even had an ultrasound. As usual, they said they could find nothing wrong. My eyes also dried out during the winter and I am still struggling to get them reasonably healthy. They have been problematic since the AT when I really injured them. Apparently, scar tissue built up and now they dry out extremely easily. This year, they have been watering constantly. I have looked up vitamin solutions for both of these issues and after a couple of months of taking them, they might be helping a little… My acupuncturist kept telling me it was allergy season, and despite my explaining to her several times that this was not an allergy-related problem, she did not seem to hear me. She also told me that I was probably ovulating when I pointed to the place my intestines were hurting the most. I was definitely not ovulating, and the pain was directly due to my infection! I also continue to suffer daily from a sinus infection that resulted from a mistake my surgeon made during my double jaw surgery in 2006. I have learned that he scraped out all of the cilia in my nasal passage and because it is a structural problem, there is no remedy for the daily build up of think congestion which now has now way out. (Again, my acupuncturist did not listen to what I told her about this problem and spent time trying to fix it as if it were allergy related). So, after giving acupuncture a try, all of my issues remain unhealed.

I’ve tried vitamin therapy, a previous attempt at acupuncture (the acupuncturist said my base energy was too low for it to work on me), reiki, went to an herbalist and tried her tea therapy, and regularly saw a chiropractor in 2012, all of which failed to make a change in my energy or conditions.

I know what the origins of my low energy are, but I haven’t found a way to overcome this issue as of yet. I think that finding a purpose and filling my life with things that light me up will help the most with this issue. As for the other problems, I really don’t know…

Writer’s Block

I’ve had severe writer’s block for the last 5+ months. Actually, I’ve had it for most of my life. I always WANT to write, but other things always get in the way. Sometimes my energy is just too low. Other times, it just doesn’t get priority. The only writing I’ve actually accomplished in my life is my trail journals. Even though writing those entries took a lot of time and effort, and even though I often still struggled with sitting down and just doing it, that writing was relatively easy because I was just recalling what happened in my extremely event-filled days on the trail.
This other life is not nearly as interesting. It’s much more sedentary and static, and for me, not much has been happening for an extremely long amount of time. I have yet to find a job. It’s not fun to keep telling everyone this. And it excludes me from a lot of things. Two of my favorite teachers are leading a long weekend yoga retreat in September and I’ve been asked several times if I am going. I can’t. I need a job. I can’t live off the few dollars I receive each month to teach my weekly yoga class. I thought that I had aligned myself with this one job that I had applied for- one where I would be working in a field that I was interested in, one where the commute would be relatively simple, and one in which I could still get to my favorite yoga classes at my home studio in Boston. I fully made the decision that that was the job I wanted. And then I waited, and waited, and watched the weeks roll by. I thought that I would have been interviewed within 2-3 weeks, and that I would have started working by June 1st. Every day, I checked to see whether the position had been filed as closed. After five weeks, I looked up some e-mail addresses where I could write to someone and tell them I was still interested. And then, I read my cover letter that I had sent for the first time since… It was not well written and contained several glaring mistakes. No wonder they did not contact me! I would have immediately dismissed my application if I were the one looking at it, too! I wondered how that could have possibly happened. Why did I mess up the one application that I wanted so badly? I remember having extremely low energy the night I wrote it. I hadn’t checked the listings for several nights at the end of April because I was preparing for and then giving my talk. By the time I saw the posting four days later, I felt like I was already late. I managed to write something and send it off late that night, but never went back to re-read it… I just can’t believe this…

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of people around me getting what they desire very quickly. Several of the people I met on the PCT have already gotten married or are planning upcoming weddings. Several are pregnant. Most have found new jobs, some in different fields than the ones they have been previously working in. One girl wrote a recent blog post about how the Universe has listened to her wishes and granted them so closely. (“I want to find a house between this and this number on this street” and boom! They are notified of an opening and move in a few weeks later). And here I am, in complete stagnation, or so it feels like. A couple of years ago, I was told by a very intuitive yoga practitioner that I have “fast-moving” energy because I identify what I want and then quickly go after it. This did occur with deciding to get my yoga teaching certification, and with my thru-hikes (the best experiences of my life), but outside of those few experiences, I feel like I have always had the slowest-moving and lowest energy of anyone on earth. A lot of times, I just feel physically bad all day long. I never wake up with energy, and sometimes, I just can’t get it activated. Often, there is no specific reason as to why I am feeling this way. Sometimes, I think I’ve just about reached the end of my life. I feel ready to expire. And then, I wake up again…

Meanwhile, one friend is quickly starting a new relationship with 100% intensity, picking up different jobs, and rehearsing for a play. Another one met a man, got engaged several months later, and in less than a year and a half is married with a baby. Another acquaintance has produced and starred in a one woman show in NYC, been interviewed on CNN and by Deepok Chopra, and is now traveling the world to stage her show in different locations. Today, she was interviewed by the BBC. These people are the ones that have “fast- moving” energy!

Fortunately, because of my yoga practice, I know that nothing is permanent. I am reminded that when things are bad, it doesn’t mean they will stay that way. Everything is always changing. This is a very different mindset than the one I grew up with and I am proud of this shift in my perspective. Although yoga does not solve one’s life problems, it does provide its practitioners with a set of tools that help to alleviate suffering. The other night, when an interaction with someone left me feeling bad late at night, I decided that the one thing I could do in that moment was to take a deep breath. And incredibly, I immediately felt a feeling of wholeness and peace! And it was all within me! Although I have certain characteristics that were set in place very early on in my life (and which often leave me with a feeling of hopelessness), I realized that my ability to not drown in these feelings or linger too long in places that don’t feel good is due to this new set of tools that I now have, such as remembering to be grateful for what I do have in this very moment. Although I am currently lacking in finances, for the first time in my life, I have the freedom to go for walks on the beach and lie under the sun! In all of the years that I was working, I never had time to do this! On the weekends, I was always doing chores, cooking for the week ahead, and trying to catch up on sleep. And I never had time to relax on my thru-hikes. Spring has been slow to arrive this year, but the first time that I was able to sprawl out on a rock underneath the sun next to the ocean waves, felt amazing!
Perhaps, something is brewing in its slow-moving way and I just can’t see it yet. Perhaps I haven’t been clear enough on exactly what it is that I want. Perhaps I am too isolated and not connected enough with the people that can help me achieve my desires. For now, I will continue to set intentions, be grateful for all that I do have, and start writing at last!

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson