I Want Your Life To Get You Wet

Do you have a relationship to rasa? 

In Ayurveda there is a word, rasa, which means sap. Rasa can be used to describe a way of being, the physical blood in the body, as well as being the word for the various artforms fundamental to human thriving. Rasa is essentially, the flavor of life, that which makes us salivate, lubricate, so that we can better taste, better feel that which is deeply pleasing and beautiful. In the energetic body structure, this is our relatedness and our ability to receive nourishment.

These qualities are inherently feminine, and they are being jeopardized in a world the prioritizes busyness, rigidity in diet and exercise protocols, and which teaches sex as bio-mechanical penetration for climax's sake. In a culture that is absurd in its hyper-masculinity, it is no wonder that our maternal death rate is the highest of all developed nations. It is no wonder that 1 in 4 mothers experiences deep depression after birth. It is no wonder that 50% of marriages fail after a baby is born.

It is not only possible to cultivate rasa, in fact the healing of our world absolutely depends on it. 

This month I am leading two rasa-rich workshops on what Katie Silcox calls 'Feminine Form Medicine.'  In other words, bringing the focus back to nourishment over achievement, receptivity over delivery, pleasure over performance. Participants in these workshops can count on no-nonsense dialogue about what needs to shift in our habitual ways of fear-driven living, as well as easy-to-use protocols from Somatic Experiencing, Expressive Arts Therapy, Yoga and Ayurveda. I believe this information can change the way we relate to our bodies, our planet, and will, ultimately, restore us to divine balance.

It starts with you. It starts with your acceptance of responsibility for the health of your body, your mind, your spirit. 
 

What do I mean when I say "Food"

Brain dump to the order of 34 years of uncertainty

finally coming to a close.

I want you to GET how insanely powerful your body is, that it doesn’t need to be managed or punished but revered and deliberately tended to on a daily basis, meal by meal, sensational moment by moment. Every time you skip a meal under the guise of ‘not enough time’ you tell yourself, “you’re not important.” Every time you opt out of eating a full meal and binge on snacks you tell yourself, “you don’t deserve better.” Every time you look at yourself in the mirror and pinch and pull and say hateful things to your body, you render yourself homeless. It’s no different than a teen girl being kicked out of her house for having red hair instead of brown (hair color here is arbitrary.)

How much cleansing is necessary? How much fasting and dieting is necessary? Go ahead show me all the studies and facts of why this diet is superior and sooooooo important and I’m still going to ask you, “how’s your anxiety? your depression? do you orgasm and feel a sense of purpose?”

When you understand that regulating your digestion and your hormones IS the skeleton key to regulating your emotions and your thoughts, which IS the key to enhancing your experience of the world and being receptive to real and lasting relationship, you change the course of your life forever. You are the only one who puts or does not put food in your mouth. You are the only one who knows if it does or does not feel stable to bend and push your body, to what degree, and how often. You are the only one who sets the tone for this incredibly sacred space. You decide to keep it clean and inviting for yourself, or pretend it doesn’t exist and wonder why you have nowhere to go, no sense of solid ground, nowhere that feels like home.

Your daily practice is about recommitting to a sense of gratitude for what you HAVE, not what you wish, not what you hope will be, what you HAVE. It is an act of radicalism and the foundational component of living a life of service and not blind privilege, self-sabotage or complaint.

“The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put into care and cathexis. That’s the kind of love we’re terribly bad at giving ourselves, especially on the left.” http://thebaffler.com/war-of-nerves/laurie-penny-self-care

Taking care of your physical body is an act of radical revolt and deep, deep trust in yourself.

**STAY TUNED FOR MORE UPCOMING RAMBLINGS ON FoodSleepSex**

the ritual of addiction

It's time for me to be brutally honest, to say the things I've never wanted to say, and to take the steps I'm still not totally sure I want to take.  
 

I'm an addict and I have been for 17 years.  
I use food, alcohol and sex to bear the unbearable.

I noticed one day, years ago, that I felt tremendously alone most of the time, that feelings of stress and fear usually resulted from insecurity in relationship (which I had not yet connected to a brokenness in my relationship to Self) and that my default setting to cope with those feelings was isolating and eating, or clinging to the closest body and giving all of my attention (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) to that intense moment of sexual climax in which I felt free, loved and whole.  

After years of therapy, Twelve Step support, yoga practice, inquiry, journaling, dieting, cleansing, study, training, teaching, catharsis, sharing, living, moving, fucking up and STILL feeling broken at a foundational level, I extended a hand to an entirely new source of support- my addiction.  I turned to myself and the compulsive desire I had decided (and been told) was the problem and asked for help.  First, I actually turned to my trusted and deeply loving Ayurvedic guide, Sunita Tarkunde.  Through our diligent work together I am establishing a pattern of observing and being with the pain.  I have allowed myself to articulate core beliefs about worth and wounds and not automatically shut them away for fear of anyone else's feelings about my (perceived) brokenness.  

I am becoming the source of healing, rather than the victim, the problem, the source of chaos and inconsistency.  

The body is ground zero when it comes to our human experience, but most of us stop our inquiry at that level.  Our culture fills us with absurd notions that it's our clothing, our diet, our exercise regimen and our brazenness in the bedroom that will curb or even satisfy our deeply rooted cravings.  On some level (the gross body level,) that could be true.  There's no doubt food, exercise, physical and sexual confidence and dressing in a way that feels authentic can create shift.  But under that physical craving lies much, much more that cannot be dressed up or dieted away.  

This process is not without tremendous difficulty.  I have relied on food, alcohol and sex as my most trusted allies in coping with the stress of life.  While they have not made me happier, they have ALWAYS been there when I need them, and in that consistency we have an incredibly strong alliance.  Over the next few weeks I'm going to explore with you the messages of your Four Levels of Being- Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual and ways to integrate nourishing resources into the intimate ritual of coping.  We will, together, discover the source of impulse, pain, craving, creativity and healing.  

Please share if you know someone who will benefit from this work, and please reach out to let me know what your areas of greatest need might be.  

Tlatzolteotl, Toltec goddess called "the eater of filth," reminds us that that which has the power to overwhelm and destroy us also has the power to heal and transform us.  That which pains you is here to empower you.  Tattoo by Lisa Cardenas of Haunted Hands in Tucson, AZ.

Tlatzolteotl, Toltec goddess called "the eater of filth," reminds us that that which has the power to overwhelm and destroy us also has the power to heal and transform us.  That which pains you is here to empower you.  Tattoo by Lisa Cardenas of Haunted Hands in Tucson, AZ.

when the walls are falling down, remember...

Yet again I am at a phase of profound changes, and while the walls are falling down around me and within me I feel a bizarre interplay of freedom and overwhelm.  How and what I practice, how and what I teach (and where and whom,) where I live, my priorities, the way I spend my time and think about myself, all of it seems to be under renovation, but I don't feel out of control.  And THAT is a profound shift from the past.

During times of big change and transition, consistency of practice can (and usually is) the first thing to be sacrificed.  There are, however, resources and reasons for prioritizing our self-care. I think that's pretty self-evident.  What may not be so clear, however, is WHY we lose our practice to begin with?  Well let me just speak for myself here: my practice hasn't been strong enough. My commitment to practice is and always has been strong, but what I was practicing wasn't strong enough to pull me out of my attachment to the chaos and the fatigue and the mental tail spin. Until recently. 

Over the course of the last five months I have been incorporating specific techniques into my dinacharya (daily routine) which have provided not only a stronger anchor for my practice, but much deeper embodiment and resilience.  Whether these techniques resonate or not for you is yours to discover, but if you're anything like me, why not give it a try, right?!

Breathe

As simple as it sounds, take a breath.  Becoming aware of the breath can immediately help you "relocate" to the present moment.  Then, after several intentional repetitions of breath you can reinforce your sense of stability (even if it's only at 50%) and gain clarity for making a powerful choice on your own behalf.  

Try this: sit or stand with even weight on both halves of the body (feet or sitting bones) and exhale with intention, even a little force.  Let the inhale happen.  Exhale intentionally again.  Sometimes I blow the air out of my mouth, but eventually you want to inhale/exhale through the nostrils.  Do this at least five times, or until you sense an evenness in the length of your inhale/exhale.  Relax your head and shoulders  (I usually wiggle my mouth around- tongue included!) and let yourself breathe for a full minute.  It is incredibly powerful to witness how capable we are of reestablishing balance and ease at the most basic level.  

Move

Generally, the nervous system responds to "threat" (upheaval, change, conflict, etc.) in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze.  This is the animal in us attempting to survive.  In all instances, "stay alive" is the primary goal.  As humans, we have developed an intellectual capacity which allows us to override these instinctual responses, which makes it nice for saving face, but totally disastrous when it comes to dealing with stress.  Whatever the charge, it needs to be discharged, and the best way to do that is to move.  I HIGHLY encourage you to get out of any set sequencing or "cool" moves and just shake your ass.  Literally.  Shake, quiver, tremble, pulse, flail.  Your brain will thank you for it.  At some point in my practice I let my body move in whatever contorted, twisted way it pulls itself, often to discover that I am much more malleable than I thought.  I have a tremendous amount of space inside of me that traditional fitness and even yoga asana simply cannot touch.  It feels weird and even stupid if you think about it, so don't.  Just yawn with your every pore and let your animal out.

Express

Perhaps the most crucial part of this sequence is expression: saying, writing, painting or demonstrating how and what we feel, need, want, experience is the birthright of every human. We have needs, but so do animals and plants.  Humans need to externalize our internal awakening (even in private!) in order to come into right relationship with our environment.  If not, our emotional body gets suppressed.   The emotional body, as real and functional as the physical body, is more often vilified than praised in our culture, and the results speak for themselves (opiates, anyone?  alcohol?  how about television and junk food?)  I have a box full of art supplies, and while I don't fancy myself an artist, I have developed a deep passion for artistic expression.  Pastels, crayons, clay, pen, pencil, whatever your medium of choice, just start making stuff.  Let your emotional body "speak."

If these practices are of genuine interest to you, I encourage you to consider my eight week mentorship in the Fall.  Details can be found on my website under Mentorship.

Mirrors of Adolescence

The Empress card in The Wild Unknown Tarot depicts a tree under a crescent moon.  The tree stands, not unlike the proverbial Giving Tree, extending thick, sturdy branches skyward.  As though made of light, the luminous trunk tickles the sky with soft, deep pink leaves, embracing the moonlight, and thereby her own emotional nature.

When I began teaching yoga in an alternative high school, I imagined myself somewhat like this tree, moving with the same grounded aura through the halls toward my sanctuary-esque classroom.  In this dream, I provided shelter despite artificial lighting, warmth in spite of cold, gray tile floors, and I cultivated in my students the ability to examine their deepest, most personal places by sharing simple breathing techniques and yoga asana.  And all this I wanted within the first week of work.

In my musings, several assumptions had already been established: 1. My students would trust me.  2. My students would understand me.  3.  My students wanted to examine their deepest, most personal places.  4.  I was going to be responsible for all of it.  In other words, it was all about me.

At first, the struggle to keep them engaged was farcical.  Taking long, audible breaths while waving my arms slowly up and down, reassuring them it would “feel natural and even enjoyable soon,” I was more like a court jester than a resplendent maple tree.  I all but pried their crossed arms away from their just recently post-pubescent chests and had them stand in a circle to expose every area of physical self-consciousness to their peers, most of whom were strangers.  I cried every day as soon as I exited the parking lot and kneaded knots out of my shoulders at home.  The battle against nature had commenced.

Anticipating a crop of spontaneously blossoming yoga fanatics is as fruitless as planting a piece of gum into the ground.  What has become a wild love affair with the natural beauty of being a tender human for me has taken years of rollercoastering to develop.  I forgot that adolescence is beautiful like a cut of meat is beautiful; even foodies acknowledge the savagery in it.  Most of us prefer not to see the meat until it’s been prepared and dressed properly.  The inner landscape of teens is so raw and full of chaotic urges that I found myself gutted by it, and I was domesticating my students’ humanity rather than cultivating deep respect for it.  

The change occurred one day, not surprisingly, when the Houston summer heat broke.  I took my students outside on the grass with one assignment: 1. Write down the five postures you like best, 2. Practice them.  They marched outside so precisely and lined up their mats like sentinels on the grass.  Amidst soft chatter and bouts of bathroom visits, there was a new atmosphere creating itself in which these young people felt free to be themselves and explore yoga, not as an assignment or another “you-must-do-this-or-else,” but a skill they were adapting and learning to wield skillfully.  Gone were the blank stares, the incessant comments and complaints.  Instead there were eager people, replete with smiles and insights, teaming up to guide each other through this new territory.  

From each interaction with nature, some new awareness blooms into being: the tenderness of a painfully shy boy forced to listen to his parents and teachers expressing delight and relief about his having a “new friend” yields empathy; the ferocity within a girl being asked to fall in line and behave like she’s “supposed” to awakens my inner mama bear.  Where does this part of us come from?  In alchemy they say, 'Tertium non data,’ the third is not given.  

The need for love in all of them tills my insides and reminds me how unruly life can be, and how close to the surface that feeling of inner chaos lies.   But what is teaching if not standing in front of a mirror discovering the wild unknown within?  What are teenagers if not the wildest, densest, most treacherous territory?  I see in this soft light of awareness the side of me that wants to love more, really wants to be loved more - the adolescent on her way to being an Empress.  

Like a Dancin' Fool

My teacher used to always say, “Look at the person on the dance floor acting a fool- they may not be the best dancer, but they’re having the best time.” She often included a little bit of spontaneous and free-form movement in her classes-- which sent many students into butt-clench mode-- but her words stuck with me far beyond my mat. To this day, whenever I find myself stiffening in the face of change (an unexpected sub, for example…) I try to wiggle my booty a bit and see what shakes down.

In spite of our best efforts, it seems we all invariably attach to our practice, especially us asana junkies. It is deeply satisfying to spend time upside down, and the moment our feet float away from the wall is undeniably sweet. But in that moment of feeling we have “nailed” our practice, we quietly tell our inner Self that practice is “X.” Practice becomes the thing that occurs when my feet float, or when I make it to the studio six days a week, or whichever "X" factor it may be. Practice stops when I encounter unforeseen financial trouble or emotional upset or fatigue. Over and over again we must remind ourselves that these instances are when the practice actually begins: in the face of change. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose what changes or when, we merely choose whether or not to accept the change and whether or not to go with the flow.

I have been injured several times in my "asana career" and have had to adapt my practice to the undeniable circumstance of not being able to put weight on my right arm, for example. At the time this particular injury happened, I had just settled into a consistent and budding Mysore practice. Now, anyone familiar with Ashtanga knows it’s all about that Surya Namaskar. I, however, had no access to urdhva hastasana, let alone any of the weight-bearing postures. I was deflated and deeply sad. In the moment, it was true that my asana practice could not develop because of the way that I had previously defined it. But because my teacher is a brilliant P.T. as well as a devoted Ashtangi, she encouraged me to show up and do whatever I could, including a makeshift assortment of standing postures from the Primary Series and savasana. To arrive at the shala each morning in spite of what I “could” do was tremendously humbling and opened a huge vault in my experience of “practice.” I noticed my breath with more sensitivity and put all my training to use smoothing out the jagged lines of, “But I can’t,” and “When will I be able to…?” In my mind, I remembered, ”Yogas citta vritti nirodah....”

Injury is an obvious place to start, but what about those less-obvious changes? Seasonal shifts, for example, and a necessarily altered energy level? Or an emotional upheaval, such as a breakup, a move, or watching the news?  As committed practitioners, it can be confusing at best (if not infuriating) to implement a strong routine for self-care and then be asked to loosen our grip on the reins. There's the mental agitation, the not having what we want when we want it, and worse, the not having a way to correct the problem; isn’t that the citta we’re trying to nirodah? When we find ourselves rigidly holding on to our routines and refusing to adapt, we can always count on Patanjali to drop his wisdom bombs and remind us, “Abhyasa-vairagyabhyam ta nirodah.” The fluctuations (citta vrittis) are stilled by practice and dispassion (Sutra 1.12). We must practice, i.e. show up, and bring with us a little of this “dispassion,” or the absence of craving for the sense objects, a category to which our body and our asanas surely belong.  


This is no small task, but it is the task, and while there are those who have mastered this, I find it soothing to look to nature for guidance; I don’t feel competitive with the elements. As seaweed is moved by the tide, we are moved by the actions of and our responses to the world around us. Owing to its malleability and ROOTEDNESS, seaweed dances gracefully. Likewise, a practice rooted in a focused, holistic approach or broader-reaching tradition can provide said root, but it is up to us to soften and let the tides of life move. They are part of a grander plan than our own. When pincha mayurasana is off the table, or maybe putting any weight on your left side is impossible, don’t sit to the right and wait for things to go back to the way they were. Dance like a fool, and see what could be.

Home Practice: How to Begin

"How do I start a home practice?" is an oft-asked question in the yoga world. Initially, figuring out how to do yoga on your own can be a mystifying, overwhelming, and even nerve-wracking process. For many, home practice is the ultimate “come to Kali” moment; it’s just you and yourself—truly and inescapably. And with no teacher to tell you what to do, uncertainty, lethargy, frustration, and distractions often prevail. Plus, there’s no way to know if you’re going to do the right thing and no way to know how long you're meant to do that "thing" for. There are so many options! Why even bother?

For one, home practice is a radical form of self-care. A bold declaration of self-empowerment, self-acceptance, and self-awareness. After all, following someone else’s cues and direction is usually a heck of a lot easier than coming up with your own way of doing things. It’s in our nature to question the validity of things, including our own capabilities, and sometimes, within gaps of uncertainty, to allow someone else to step in and take control of the decision-making process is just simpler. But imagine setting aside time every day to honor the part of you that feels deeply, to acknowledge what you know on a deep and undeniable level, to facilitate a trusting—even reverent—relationship with your body. That is the power of home practice.

How to Get Started

Let’s make this simple. Have you ever left a class thinking, “That was exactly what I needed today"? A really great class or workshop can serve as the spark that ignites your home practice. Take something you love home with you and recreate it the best you can, almost like cooking from a recipe. In her book "Yoga, Mind, Body & Spirit," Donna Farhi offers a really lovely comparison between yoga and cooking—in both cases, we need to learn fundamentals, and we also need to familiarize ourselves with the ingredients and the ways in which the ingredients complement each other. That's where teachers and classes come in: they introduce us to the ingredients, and once we get familiar with them, it’s time to get creative and cook for ourselves. And that's when things get really interesting!

Sometimes a great yoga class is simply the result of the perfect mix of ingredients—the teacher, time of day, sequence, playlist, and vibe. Home practice presents the perfect opportunity to distill the essence of this recipe. The work will be to examine these ingredients and make them your own through a process of self-inquiry. The first step? Get on your mat and experiment!

But maybe you're thinking “I just can’t focus on my own for that long!”—but how long are we actually talking here? Home practice doesn't have to take 90 minutes; 10 to 20 minutes is plenty to start. After all, it's important to be realistic. The practice you truly need might take only 15 minutes, and you can always go to a class later that day, or the next day, and find even more interesting ingredients to play with. Soon, the amount of time you practice on your own will grow (I promise!).

And if you enjoy yoga classes for their social qualities, I offer you this: While gathering in groups does generate connection, within the context of your home practice you'll have a unique opportunity to connect with yourself. You might even discover that you enjoy taking some time out to be alone. When my home practice first got going it was almost exclusively about that: a time to close my door, turn off the phone, and have quiet (or music, or mantra) for an hour. I realized that I had a lot on my plate, and I often felt depleted. Home practice was an opportunity to create the quiet I so craved. I didn’t need much more than a few minutes to feel like I had gotten "my time" in. 

No More Excuses 

Once I cultivated a home practice that was tailored to my needs, I also found that my list of excuses for not practicing grew considerably shorter. (This may actually be one of the less-talked-about reasons for not starting a home practice—it forces us to take responsibility!) I had often used my busy schedule as an excuse for not getting on my mat. If there are no classes I can get to when I have time, I can blame my lack of yoga—something outside of myself— for all of my stress, anxiety, and malaise. Except, with a home practice I discovered that the "I don't have time" excuse is a lot harder to justify. Any time that can be classified as “killing time” is perfect for practice, and just that well-used 5-, 10-, 15-minute practice session can ripple out into the rest of the day in profound ways.  

Deciding What to Practice 

My yoga practice actually started at home—granted I was following along with Patricia Walden and Shiva Rea DVDs, but I was in the privacy of my bedroom having a personal experience. When I left home for college and began taking classes in studios, "going to class" took over my understanding of practice. I was learning so much, and loving it!  A few years later I completed my teacher training and soon after I started teaching full time. I got to a point where my schedule (and energy levels) made getting to class a challenge, but more than that, I wasn't getting what I needed at the studio anymore. I found what I needed by once again getting on my mat in the privacy of my bedroom, with nothing else to attend to but my own experience. I first practiced a yin sequence that I remembered from a class, and afterward, I felt incredibly calm and nourished. That became the anchor in my week; every Wednesday around 4 pm, I gave myself a yin practice, and the rest evolved from there.  

These days, I generally practice on my own four to six times a week; I stretch my hips and legs for a few minutes, I practice agni sara, surya namaskar (sun salutations), a standing-pose series, backbends, relaxation, and meditation. Sometimes I scale back (depending on how much time and energy I have) and just focus on surya namaskar, pranayama, and meditation. Sometimes I just lie on my back in supta baddha konasana (reclined bound angle pose) and breathe deeply until I feel my body ask for something else. There is tremendous power in staying still until you know exactly what needs to happen.  

Keep It Fresh

Your needs change, and your practice will need to change along with those needs. A couple of years ago I felt my practice needed a jolt and I began practicing Mysore style. In this form of asana practice students are taught a full sequence of postures (starting with the Ashtanga primary series) piece by piece and expected to memorize what they’ve learned each day. Students arrive at the shala (studio) with mat in hand and sequence in mind and body, and work through their set of poses until the teacher determines they are ready to take on more. It is a humbling experience, especially if you started out going to mixed-level classes with a “bring-it-on” attitude like many of us have done. However, Mysore-style practice also sets the expectation that you are the real teacher; you are responsible for working with the sequence in a way that keeps you safe, and you set the pace each day based on where you are in mind, body, spirit.  

Lessons from Mysore-Style Practice 

Mysore-style practice taught me to be patient, present, and loving—qualities that have been invaluable when it comes to my home practice. I had to learn to be brutally honest with myself and my needs. On days when I was sore and sleepy (and definitely not in the mood to get up at 5 am), I had to learn to breathe and move with it, not against it, to focus on giving myself what I really needed in those moments of struggle. I was blessed with a teacher who reminded me to let go of expectations, that the only thing that mattered was getting to my mat. Mysore turned out not to be what I needed every day, but for me it solidified the notion that consistency is key, and when it comes to personal practice, "personal" is the operative word. I’ve since returned to my home practice with a renewed confidence in myself and my ability to give myself what I need. What I still love most about the Ashtanga practice is that its promise is so simple and so clear: "Practice, and all is coming."

Just Do It

And that’s the best advice I can give: Just practice! Keep it simple, and do what you know. For example, that might look like surya namaskar A and/or B, followed by five minutes of nadi shodanam (alternate nostril breathing), and ten minutes of meditation. No one’s watching, and no one’s rating your poses against anyone else's. It's either “Yes, I did my practice today” or “No, I did not do my practice today”—not “Well, I didn’t hold handstand, and my warrior I felt a little off.” If we are truly cultivating equanimity in body, mind, and spirit through the practice of yoga, then practice needs to shift with our changing bodies and minds so that ultimately it serves the spirit. Practice is about taking the time to gather ourselves into something that resembles wholeness. And only you know what that means. So practice. All is coming.