Last night after taking a hot shower, I crawled into the freshly washed sheets of my bed and let my body sink into the bliss of it all. It was 8pm. Several days this week, about an hour before I have to go pick my daughter up from school, after spending her school hours writing, studying and teaching, I have let myself lie down for “a little eyeball rest” as I like to call it. It all feels wonderfully rebellious. There is a little part of me that wonders if I am doing something wrong or if I am wasting the precious time I have alone, not doing something more “productive”. It feels a bit naughty to actually shut out the world for a time in the middle of what we have collectively deemed to be working hours and sometimes actually fall asleep.
Let me also acknowledge the privilege I have to even be able to do this. I promise you it's not because I have an exorbitant amount of wealth where I don’t have to worry about working. Quite the opposite in fact. My husband is currently an adjunct professor who travels four hours a day to get to and from work and spends most of what he earns on gas and tolls. The other days of the week he is at a restaurant working. I am studying for my eating disorder recovery coaching certification and taking a writing course in the process, while continuing to try and grow and build an online business and take care of our daughter, all while living with my parents. I share all of that to show that our life is not currently in some ideal place where we can lap in many luxuries. We have so much work to do and so many ways in which we are working to create our life after the shifting tide that was COVID for our family. Yet still, I am very, very lucky to be able to do any of that. Not to mention, naps are free.
And yet, it is perhaps the fact that I am making this choice to prioritize rest over production, in the face of needing to be so, that makes it feel all the more revolutionary. It is also what I believe is the far more productive path than the one our culture has been steeped in for so long. Ever since the industrial revolution, productivity culture has been born out of the need to squeeze the most out of its workers with the least amount of cost. Capitalism tells us that the more we output, the more valuable we are and therefore spending any amount of the waking hours doing something other than producing is cutting down our value.
Lately, I have an insatiable need to reject it all. The very same way that my daily walks are a rebellion against the culture of fitness and the idea we need to push our bodies in order to be productive in our movement, my naps are a rebellion against the idea that my value, that any of our value, lives only in what we produce. I want to live in a world where the value of a person is inherent and solely based on us even being in existence, rather than on what we can offer the world. The entire hustle culture narrative is one that upholds the constant question of “what can you do for me?”, most often imposed by ourselves because somewhere along the line, we got the memo that our worth is only in what we can offer others. It’s why the very idea of self-care can be so overwhelming to the Mom who is constantly on the go, the Dad who thinks he has to “bring home the bacon” or even the child who is asked the question from day one, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” as if they aren’t already enough in their current state of being.
My feelings around this were only magnified when the other day, on one of my walks, I listened to Glennon Doyle share in her podcast that perhaps the revolutionary woman is a well rested one. Sign me up for this revolution please. Let me put down the production and pull up the blanket and give my body and my mind the good rest that it so longs for. I am also happy to recruit any and all who wish to join. There is no need to enroll in any special program. No subscription or sign up necessary. All you have to do is stare your fatigue in the eye and honor it. Even if you aren’t tired but you just need a break, I dare you to take it. The work will get done, the world will continue to go on and your stock will not drop. I promise. Join me in the revolution of rest. Let’s be the well-rested sisters and brothers that our foremothers and fathers weren’t because someone accidentally told them that they only mattered if they could give and give and give.
Let’s not wait until we are dead to rest. I have a feeling it will be so much less pleasurable then.
I had a terrible night’s sleep last night. Part of it was my own fault. I have started watching Alone on National Geographic, specifically season four because I am slightly obsessed with Brooke Whipple and her Girl in the Woods channel. I have these wild fantasies about becoming my own version of a girl in the woods, except I won’t be building a bush shelter any time soon. You would think watching a show about how incredibly difficult it actually is to exist in nature and all the potential hardships that come along with it would deter me from this fantasy. And yet, I find myself in the beginning stages of booking weekend camping trips and hiking trail excursions in the coming months. Last night, I simply could not turn it off and when I did, thought that I would get a solid six hours.
Any parent will tell you that these are naturally the nights when the child crawls into bed with you at two in the morning and the dog has to get up several times at night to go to the bathroom. So that was my night. And today, I’m tired.
After dropping Audrey off and calling several vets to see if I can get an appointment for what I suspect is a UTI in the dog, I came stared and stared at the computer, but simply could not focus my brain. I know there are so many things to “get done” and yet I can’t think of one.
So naturally, I did what any good walking nature girl would do and I threw on my sneakers and headed out the door. I took the normal neighborhood path. I didn’t have it in me to think beyond what I already know. I walked on the familiar earth and looked down as I put one foot in front of the other. I looked up and saw the blue sky. A butterfly flew past me and somewhere down the lane bunnies hopped in the grass.
As I rounded the corner and let the overgrown wildflowers kiss my legs, I had a thought “what honestly is more productive than this?” Seriously, here I was outside, moving my body and taking deep breaths. I was noticing the beauty that surrounded me and very much aware of how low energy I was. I was purposely taking care of myself. It didn’t matter that at that moment I wasn’t writing, or doing marketing for eMOTION or studying for my certifications. Yes, those things must happen and get done and they will. They will.
I think we too often forget that our worthiness exists already. We don’t have to build a fortune 500 company or make a ton of money or show how beautiful our life is on Instagram in order to be worthy. We already are. And the most productive thing we can ever do is to be present for our life as we are living it in honor of that worthiness.
After I finished my walk, I did one of the other most productive things you can do. I took a nap. I crawled right into bed and under a blanket at 2pm in the afternoon and I rested. Rest is my latest favorite rebellion. But I have more to write about that later...
This morning I went back to the beach. I knew before I even glimpsed the ocean that she was rough. I could hear the crashing of the waves as if there was a loud drum embedded into the earth. The moment I walked over the dunes, I saw the spray spitting into the air and a cliff made of sand. I had been there not five days ago and there was no cliff. The beach was as one would expect, smooth, vast and walked right into the ocean as the ocean rolled effortlessly right onto it.
Not today. Today there was no mistaking the power of the sea and all that she is capable of doing. The cliff was entirely made of sand, but solid enough for me to sit on without sliding into the surf. Even the walking was rough as I had to stick to the deeper, less packed earth which makes it much more unsteady. Normally I walk right along the water’s edge where there is less give to each step. To do so today would risk being swept away. So I walked for a while and noticed how even in the roughness, it was all so incredibly beautiful. I myself woke up this morning feeling less than smooth. An ache in my back due to it being the beginning of my cycle was supporting a less than stellar feeling. In the practice of being gentle, I gave myself permission to walk up to the edge of the cliff and sit.
As I sat there I thought about how, in a few days time, my back ache would go away and this miraculous cliff of sand would too. I thought about how much the ocean changes, sometimes unpredictably so, which is what makes it so wild and beautiful. I couldn’t help but think about how if we only applied that to ourselves, in our own constant and ever changing tides and flows as humans, we would be so much better off. A lot of the modern day human action is for the purpose of sustaining only what we know. What is already in place. Too often we look at change as something to be fixed, a burden to be admonished. Even as it keeps on coming, we do all we can to ward it off, to fight it or even deny it.
As I sat on this solid sandy cliff that would itself recede back into the ocean, I thought about how when growth and change stops, death happens. Figuratively speaking, when people decide that this is just how they are and how they will continue to be and the goal remains to maintain stasis, it’s an emotional and energetic death. And literally when the body stops growing and changing, on a cellular level, it dies. To pursue growth and change, to even dare to embrace it, is to pursue and embrace being alive, in my opinion.
It can get rough and cliffs will form, but rough can be beautiful. Just as beautiful as the days when everything is as calm and cool as glass. But even glass has to get heated up and changed in order for it to be so. And when it is done, it ceases to change unless it is broken. May we be done changing and growing, only when we take our final breath. And even then, I’m not sure we’re done.
What do you think?
Getting quiet can get really loud. It’s why so many people avoid doing it.
I didn’t plan on going for the walk I went on today. It didn’t even really hit me to do so until I grabbed my keys to chauffer Audrey to school. But something told me to head to one of the longer trails around here and see what happens. Normally when I walk I listen to something, a podcast or music. Sometimes I call a friend and chat.
Today I grabbed my headphones and began down the trail, but I couldn’t get myself to put them on. The sounds that were around me were far too plentiful. The crickets and cicadas were chirping away. There were the cries of Osprey and Vulture and the hammer of the woodpecker. Even the crunch of my own feet felt symphonic to my ears. I walked the entire walk with the headphones around my neck, never putting them on.
The thing about noise in nature however, is that when you really listen to it, there is a kind of quiet that exists underneath it all still. I find that as humans, when we go quiet and without distraction, sometimes there is a loudness that resides there. Thoughts hum, fears buzz and worries caw. Without the aid of my eardrums being occupied, I was all of a sudden able to hear it all. The initial impulse is to grab for the distraction and run. But I kept walking and kept time with the outer noises surrounding me. I heard myself loud and clear and felt all of the things I was feeling in my body.
Something we don’t do a great job at explaining as human beings is that the emotions we experience all have a unique sensation that shows up in our body. There is something called Interoceptive Awareness which is the ability to actually feel these sensations in conjunction with what we are experiencing emotionally. We are generally good at the more primal ones, such as feeling sleepiness, hunger and the urge to go to the bathroom. These aren’t emotions, but they are very much cued by our interoceptive awareness. The real skill and study comes from understanding how our emotions show up in our bodies. Fear comes to me as a restriction in my chest while anxiety comes as a bundle of knots in my stomach. Sometimes it feels as if the top layer of my skin is sitting in perpetual goosebumps. It has taken some time, but I have become quite apt at reading my emotions through bodily sensation.
As I walked today however, feeling the knots and the tightness, I found myself walking for some quick spurts and then stopping and standing in complete stillness. I would listen to the crunch, crunch, crunch of my feet and then pause to listen to the hum of the woods. Each time I stopped I noticed that underbelly of quiet that was present. And I realized, this is what gets missed when we don’t actually let ourselves get quiet. When we bombard ourselves with constant distraction and noise, we lose the ability to first go in and face the loudness of our own thoughts, but after a while, not too long, there is a settling. At the very least, an understanding that the noise of our minds is simply the top layer of what is happening. Underneath it still lives an element of quiet calm, just as in nature.
I understand how hard it can be to get quiet with ourselves. It’s the very same reason we are working on gentleness this month in eMOTION. We don’t live in a quiet and gentle world and so our skills are simply not often attuned to knowing how to navigate those moments. One of the entire reasons I am writing these “walking diaries” is to really begin advocating for a more quiet and gentle way of being with ourselves to become more normal. Even when life is loud. A big reason my walks take place in nature is because there are just so many lessons to take and apply from it. There are lessons there, when we really choose to listen to them.
My sincere hope is that through reading one of these blogs, or coming to an eMOTION or Meditation class with me, you will walk away with the permission to let it be ok for things to get a little loud when you go quiet. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. It simply means that there is a lot to listen to in order to get to that quiet layer underneath it all. It’s like sometimes when you do a big clean out, you make more of a mess at first in order to sort through everything. Often, that’s all that is happening in the loudness of our own minds. Let it move through you, but more importantly, let yourself move through it without distraction. Peace will come. I promise.
On today’s walk I listened to the latest On Being podcast which featured forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. Suzanne’s research has shown that trees and specifically in forests, are wired for wisdom. There is a complex and invisible communication system that occurs in which the elder trees essentially teach the younger ones how to thrive and survive. So much of it is reflective of how human society also works, on many different levels.
I took the normal walking path that I do around our neighborhood. Most of it grazes the backyards of houses and cornfields. There is a section however that is entirely wooded and has been a sanctuary of mine these last 18 months. I have meditated in these woods. Played and built forts and fairy houses with Audrey in them. I have seen deer and raccoons scamper in front of me on the path. I also have this tendency to place my hands on the trees as I walk by them. I have no idea why I began this, just one day as I was walking along the rough bark was calling out to be felt. So I place my hand upon it and find myself taking a deep breath as if somehow my hand is moving the breath into the tree. Or perhaps my hand is receiving it from the tree. Or both.
I was struck today, listening to Suzanne, about how much healing happens because of the community that surrounds a tree. There is an entire process in place where trees communicate through one another through their own carbon, while at the same time the fungi and root system does the same. I couldn’t help but think about how desperate so many of us are for this kind of system as humans and yet how much we have set ourselves up as a society to work against that need.
I could go on and on about social structures and the performative culture that makes it more important to look like you have it all together rather than actually share openly about our vulnerabilities. Instead, I will simply use the metaphor of the trees that I noticed as I walked out of the woods and back into where all the houses were with the perfectly manicured lawns and landscaping. As my feet hit the pavement, I came upon a single tree perfectly placed in its own bed. Several feet away was another one. And then again, same thing.
I thought about Suzanne’s research and the importance of not only the survival, but the thriving of trees in a forest in relation to other trees. Here were these perfectly kept trees, places between two slabs of concrete in close but not in related proximity to the others. These lone trees are essentially left to fend for themselves and have the job of providing aesthetic beauty to the neighborhood in which it has been placed. Much like the people for whom they exist to please, their value comes more from the beauty they exude than the nutrients for which they are more than capable of providing. The things that would last far longer than their beauty, or even their life span would.
I found myself stunningly aware of this juxtaposition as I walked passed these suburban trees. I wondered, with the complex communication system that they have, can they not hear the trees of the woods calling? Are they not standing there doing their best, yet so longing to be a part of the forest that is only just out of reach. Do they not long to be amongst the mother trees and all of their wisdom so that they can realize even more for themselves beyond just their beauty, but to be a part of the family of trees for generations yet to come?
My hands found their way to the leaves of one of these trees as I walked by. And then another one. And so on. I wanted them to know that while they may feel alone, they are not. That their presence doesn’t go unnoticed and that they are so much more than what they look like. I wanted to recognize that their wisdom still exists inside of them, even as they exist in a much more curated and cultivated society that doesn't always value real and true wisdom.
If one morning I woke up and by some miracle each one of these trees had pulled up their roots and ran away, into the forest to reconvene with all the other trees, I would applaud. I would dance. I would sing and smile all day. For the seeking of wisdom, for the sake of the self and all who surround is a thing to be celebrated.
And so you know, I would do the same for you too.
Why is it that moving our bodies has come so much synonymous with struggle? I look around and see friends pounding themselves into the treadmill or grunting their way through cross fit. It’s not that I am opposed to such things, believe me I love to get my sweat on. Really that should be obvious as for most of my career I was standing in heated studios while cueing my students to do chaturanga after chaturanga. I have written often about how my hard-core movement practices and preferences were really an extension of my disordered mindset towards my body. And while I could write and write about how making sure I got a good sweat was usually a compensation for what I ate the night before, or as a way to manipulate the shape of myself, there is a different observation I wish to make. A fear that I wish to express:
I am afraid that because movement has become so tied to struggle and feeling powerful, we have lost one of it’s most beautiful offerings, its ability to soothe us.
This morning I woke up with a jumbled brain. I sat and meditated. I read a chapter of my book. I sat and stared at the quiet darkness. Normally I relish these moments, creeping around not wanting to wake my daughter in hopes to get as much alone time as possible. This morning however, I found myself peeking into her room to see if perhaps she was already stirring, itching for the distraction. I knew that if I was going to get anything done today after drop-off, that I was going to need to move my body.
I thought about heading to the gym and lifting weights. I did that recently and walked around like the odd duck that I am in a gym, pretending to know what to do. I did enjoy the power that came from feeling my muscles burn, a clear sign that remnants of my old self are still there. Only this time, I didn’t hop on the treadmill and run six miles at warp speed and come back the next day to do it all over again. That is the part of me that has died, or rather healed. I find that I am no longer in search of that kind of power over myself, hard as I may try to find the enthusiasm for it from time to time. It’s as if my mind is asking my body “are you sure we are absolutely done with these harsher and more regimented ways of moving us around?” to which my body promptly responds, usually in the form of protest the next day, “YES, we’re done”. That then gets followed up by the old voice saying “yeah, but if you just did it more you’d feel differently about it”. Thus proceeds a couple of days where I think that I will make a plan and hop on board that train of promises and this time will be the time that I do what I say I will do. And that’s where I step in and remind myself that actually, that entire dialogue is disordered mindset still testing the waters. I take a deep breath, forgive myself and let it go. To me, the real measure of being recovered is not that we eradicate the thoughts and conversation that we have with ourselves, but really how we respond to it. I may have conversations with myself like this come and go all my life, but the major difference in this moment is how I guide myself through them.
I then thought I would do one of my favorite hip-hop dance videos. If you have followed me on Instagram, you will know I have an affinity for hip-hop dancing, specifically with the youtuber Mike Peele. He and his movement brings me joy. I say him because if you have ever taken a class from Mike Peele, you will know all about what he wonderfully refers to as “The Peele Effect”. And while he always beautifully explains that it really isn’t about him at all but how we all carry our feelings forward from our experience that is the real effect in action, he truly is a magic ingredient in the mixture. But the truth is my body wasn’t quite up for the dance today. Another measure of recovery is whether or not we actually listen to ourselves. It would have been quite easy in another time to talk myself into it, despite the clear signal I was already getting. There is an art to knowing yourself and knowing the difference between actual complacency and when something just isn’t right. I knew today, even with my love for him, that Mike Peele was’t my avenue.
I settled on a walk. The truth is that walking has become my movement of choice these days. Ever since the pandemic required us all to slow down and I moved from a city where walking was more of an obligation than a choice, I have found myself drawn to it in a new way. There is a little trail near my parents house where you can pretend you aren’t in the suburbs for a moment and end up in a gloriously wooded spot. This has become somewhat of a sacred practice to me, but I will admit that as of late, a bit habitualized. Today I knew I needed something different, a different scene mostly. It would seem funny to many who don’t live at the beach that I wouldn’t have thought right away about walking the beach. The thing is that after a while of living anywhere for a certain amount of time, the novelty wears off. I’ve become quite comfortable being one of those people who lives at the beach, but never goes. It makes me sad to even type it and yet I will say what I often say to my coaching clients which is that “sometimes you have to lose yourself (or something) in order to find it again”. I unknowingly let the fact that I live near the ocean be lost for a minute, I will now knowingly return.
So I dropped my daughter off at school and I headed to the beach. The moment I stepped onto the sand and saw the sun still low in the sky, I felt my entire body ease. Then there was the walking. One step in front of the other is not as simple on sand. The ground is unlevel and there are tiny valleys and mountains on the earth. I decided to find the firmest sand, which was down by the water. At first the water washed over my feet and I felt rebellious for getting the bottoms of my yoga pants wet. I walked on and on like that, feeling the juxtaposition of the rough sand and the slippery water. I would pass by people with dogs and people fishing, though there were few of us out there. As I walked on, the very question that prompted this post rang through my mind. Have we so tied movement to struggle that we are missing out on one of its greatest gifts? Here I was simply walking. My body was in motion, no less so than when I dance really, just differently. But walking, one foot in front of the other, one of the very first things we work on as humans, is so gentle in nature and yet so profound in its offering. As I walked on, I saw fish jump and dolphins swim. I noticed the sun sparkling on the water and felt the shift in the time of day as it rose a little higher.
I thought about how our theme this month in eMOTION is gentleness and how this moment was the very epitome of how movement can be gentle and yet gentle does not mean any less powerful. We often misuse that word power, in my opinion, when it comes to movement. We think it means the only kind of power that most of us are used to, which is power over ourselves and our bodies. We completely miss out on the other three kinds which are power with, to and within ourselves. We mistake successfully powering over ourselves for some kind of inner power, when usually in order to get our bodies to even be willing participants, we have to shut down the power within. It is one of the greatest tragedies of the yoga world, watching it gravitate towards the more patriarchal well-known power, when it offered such a beautiful alternative once upon a time. I am just now at almost 40 coming to deeply appreciate the yoga of the women who came before me, who I used to know of their presence but think it just wasn’t for me. It was always for me, I just didn’t know it yet.
But I do now. At least as I walk the beach, I think that I do. I am grateful for this call to invite more gentle movement into my life and to create the opportunity for others to do the same. I am even getting so bold as to dramatically shift my entire business towards it. Just yesterday I spent the day emailing therapists who work with people in ED recovery and promoted myself as a safe movement option. It only feels bold in contrast to the years of promoting myself as a powerful and much more athletic yogi, before finding this side of movement for myself. And so I share this fear with you all, not to sound an alarm, but to hopefully create a bit of a stir. To prompt you to ask the question, how am I using my movement? Am I using it to punish myself? To fortify the mindset that where there is no pain there is no gain? I won’t be so brazen as to say that it is completely disordered, that’s not my place, but I will say that it simply is not always true. Do you use the lack of movement to punish yourself in a way that is riddled with guilt and shame? Because to go for a simple walk isn’t enough or like the days when you would go from pilates to running a half marathon? That you “should” be able to do more?
I baptized the day by walking into the water. My body breathed even more relief at the sensation of its coolness. My nervous system was soothed by the gentle rocking of the waves. I lay back and let myself be cradled. Fish jumped all around me and as I floated in this earthly womb I thought about how gentleness is really our birthright. Yes we have to move through the trauma of being born, go out into the world and often have our asses handed to us by life. But at the end of it all, we still come to an ultimate stillness no matter how hard we pushed and how much grit we had.
All I am saying is, why wait until death to be gentle with ourselves? Why does the movement we impart on our bodies have to be as harsh as the rest of the world is around us? Couldn’t we perhaps consider that we are meant to, while we consciously can, do everything in our power to create and recreate a kind of pleasurable calm through movement?
These walks are my new rebellion. This is where I defy the mindset that in order to find peace we first must suffer the consequences of self inflicted abuse. As I went to walk back to shore, I found myself turning around one last time to remind myself of this. I let my hands dance through the dark green water and I breathed. It doesn’t have to be any more than this. This is enough.
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is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.