Yesterday in the car, Audrey and I were listening to Hamilton and this line jumped out at me and hit me in the face.
I will be honest with you (always) the last week I have been in a bit of a personal struggle. The only way I can describe it is a kind of identity crisis in my work and how I want to move forward.
Here are the facts:
* I love my practices of yoga, meditation and wellness and what they have done for me over the years. The tools that they have offered have been life changing in many ways.
* I love teaching and take my responsibility of people giving me their time, attention and money very seriously.
* Much of what I have learned, where I have learned it and who I have learned from has been problematic. Perhaps not in the microcosm of the space itself, but if we zoom out and really take a look at the bigger picture. There has been a great deal of perpetuating harmful ideology that is rooted in white supremacy, prosperity culture and inequality.
* Now that I’ve zoomed out, I can’t (and refuse) to zoom back in. Even though it would be the easier thing to do...for me. There is a lot of unpacking to do.
The main thing I am fighting with is the desire to be loud and vocal and decisive and the old narrative of middle ground neutrality. Neutrality has been so valued in wellness culture. It’s part of old ancient texts, to a degree, but it is also part of the capitalism of it all, making sure that no one is cut off from wanting to spend their money in the yoga studio or on certain products. We can say it’s for accessibility and the desire to create safe spaces for all, but in the current context of things, this has the exact opposite effect. To be blunt, I call bullshit.
The second part of this line is “drop the niceties”. Nice can be brutally toxic and dangerous, even when good intentioned. Nice is what upholds systems. Nice is not the same as kind. So when I heard this line, I knew it was exactly how I felt and exactly how I will move forward. If it creates divisiveness, I am ok with that. I know, I know, shouldn’t I as a yogi be looking to walk the middle path and seek out alignment, even with those I disagree with?
And my answer is: no. That isn’t actually my job in a world where the very foundation of the middle ground isn’t actually middle at all but much more skewed in the direction of those who benefit from it. The middle ground, in today’s context isn’t actually bringing anything together, but rather working to keep as little disruption to business as usual in place. If history teaches us anything it’s that revolutions and change doesn’t actually happen on the middle ground. It happens when disruptors walk a different ground all together. Or burn it all to the ground. And so no, my job is not to maintain stasis and status quo. I would rather be divisive than indecisive and being the nice white yoga teacher is no longer of interest to me and quite honestly, shouldn’t be an option anymore, for any of us.
If it means turning people off or away from me, so be it. I’m ok with that. But the reality is that for those who disagree, this is not a shutting of the door but rather an open invitation to engage. I’m very clear on where I stand and comfortable with disagreeing. I am less bothered by a person who staunchly disagrees with me than those who would continue to perpetuate harm through indecision and silence. And I can simultaneously know where I stand and know that I am not always going to be right. I’m not here to be right, I’m here to get it right as Brene Brown says. Mostly I am here to be an activist for things to actually change because that is actually what is at the heart of all of these practices that we cling to. It is incredibly hypocritical to look to these practices to constantly seek change within ourselves, yet not ever do any of the necessary work to change the landscape that causes immense harm.
And in case you need to know where I stand so you can decide whether you stay or go in my spaces, I want to create a clear manifesto so that there is absolutely no confusion. This is the perspective from which I view things and live my life. It will absolutely show up in my teaching, coaching and practices because I do not believe that we can or should separate our work from ourselves.
Here is what I believe:
Finally, I want to end this by turning the page away from my own personal beliefs, feelings and story and highlight some resources for you to connect with other than this space. All of the below are people or organizations who are making it their mission to also create change for social and racial justice, body and gender equality and emotional well-being that doesn’t depend on keeping harmful oppressive structures in place. They are also people who I personally support and patronize as well as learn from. I encourage you to follow them on social media, read their work and listen to their voices and if you have the means to support them through Patreon or otherwise, please do so.
Anti-Racism Daily - Daily newsletter that comes to your inbox to give you actionable practices to help dismantle racism and white supremacy
Susanna Barkataki - Yoga teacher and author whose work is about embracing the roots of yoga
Trans Yoga Project - amplifying the voices and teaching of Trans yoga teachers
Project HEAL - Organization helping to bring equity and equality to eating disorder recovery
Jeffrey Marsh - Transgender and nonbinary beautiful human, author and educator
Rebeckah Boruki - Meditation teacher and publisher
Courtney Napier - blogger who uses her voices to blur the line between personal and political
Sonya Renee Taylor - Award winning poet, author and activist - The Body is not an apology
Finally, how I am choosing to move forward is imperfectly, but loudly. I have been a yoga teacher for the last 13 years of my life and I have admittedly not always done my part. I have gotten caught up in the glamorization and colonization of yoga. I may have always been well intentioned but as I said earlier, that no longer flies. This is not a shame story. This is about how we move forward and do better so we can all be better. I used to think that yogi activism was obnoxious because I believed the line I was being fed that yoga is about calm and peace and neutrality. I call bullshit. If we aren’t doing this work within our practices, our practices themselves become obsolete. And yoga, meditation and wellness do not need to be quiet right now. They can’t be. I invite you to be decisive and see the opportunity that really exists within your own practices. Yes, let’s nurture ourselves with our own breath and let's also make sure that we are using that breath to speak out about what is incredibly harmful for others.
Spaces where deep personal sharing is happening and yet psychological safety hasn’t been created are dangerous spaces.
I just got off a call with some of my fellow coaching fellows at the Institute of Coaching where we talked about what it means to create psychological safety in spaces where we ask people to be vulnerable. This is an important and ongoing discussion, but I immediately reflected upon my personal experiences in the yoga world and times when myself and others have been asked to share deeply personal truths, and yet no one set up the room for it to be a psychologically safe space.
This is an unfortunately common practice in yoga, specifically in teacher training programs. Students are asked to journal and write about very personal experiences and then asked to share in front of the group, ranging in sizes from very small to very large. It would be one thing if the share was as simple as that, a stand and share where everyone holds a kind of loving space for everyone. However what has often happened and I have witnessed is a kind of poking and prodding along that one of the leaders of the training takes on as a way to integrate the particular yoga methodology and practice. This is where it gets incredibly dangerous. More often than not, the teacher leading the training is not actually qualified to be doing such a thing. While yoga offers a beautiful healing practice, it does not often address the trauma that gets brought up when we are so vulnerable with our bodies.
For anyone who has been through some kind of therapy or program for healing physical and mental trauma, yoga feels like a very excellent compliment to healing the psychological wounds. However, when the line gets blurred from being a complimentary practice to a kind of inquiry that stirs up emotional trauma, facilitated by people who themselves aren’t capable of speaking to trauma informed work, it goes from a healing practice to a practice in creating more trauma.
Here is a general rule: If you can’t pack it back up again, skillfully, intelligently and responsibly, don’t unpack it in the first place.
Yoga isn’t therapy. It is an ideology and potential path that offers a lot of really great ideas by which to consider living your life. But it isn’t a substitute for real and good therapy and certainly not an appropriate space for trauma to be brought up. The real tragedy too is that just like all other spaces, the yoga room can also create new trauma when the leaders of the room refuse to hold themselves accountable for being the keepers of physical, mental, emotional and psychological safety. Yes, there is autonomy in each and every student. But when we invite a group of people into a space, at our profit no less, we have an obligation to be as certain as we can be that we are creating safe spaces, not doing more harm. To keep it yogic, it is the absolute epitome of ahimsa and unfortunately too often gets pushed aside for the feeling of personal power.
There are amazing trauma informed yoga therapists out there. There are responsible and ethical yoga teachers out there who know where the boundaries are of where their work ends and trauma informed specialists begin. But if you find yourself in a room where you are being asked to share vulnerably and personally and the psychological safety has not been spoken about or created, please my friend, walk out of that room. It’s no longer a space for you or for anyone who is interested in actually learning about yoga safely.
On a personal note, being a keeper of safe spaces as a yoga teacher, a coach and even a writer is something I am committed to and always looking to improve upon. It helps that I have gone through therapy as well as supported a partner in therapy, but all the same, improvements can always be made. I share this openly and honestly because I think it is a key component to de-stigmatizing as well as normalizing talking about how many of us who came to yoga, both as a practice and a profession, are attracted to the healing feelings it brings. At the same time, if we choose to take on a leadership role, we must know where our boundaries are. I can coach people and teach in the vulnerable space of yoga, but the moment trauma is involved, I must defer to a more qualified colleague. It doesn't take away from my own qualifications and ability and in truth, there have been many days in the last year when the consideration of going back to school has been brought up. But for now I would like to encourage us, teachers, may we humbly acknowledge our limits, not because they make us less than, but because the acknowledgement itself is what will ensure that the spaces in which we invite others into, are actually safe. And to every single student out there, if your safety is not put at the forefront, then you deserve a better teacher and safer space. Yoga isn't therapy. Let's stop trying to make it so.
Radical Honesty: I am a recovering wannabe “Yogalebrity”
It’s true. In the beginning of my yoga teaching career I dreamed about being one of those yoga teachers who graced the cover of magazines, taught packed and sold out classes at Wanderlust and wrote book after book on how to be amazing.
I simultaneously hate admitting it and love getting that off my chest.
I hate it because it makes me reflect on my own narcissistic tendencies that once drove me to harm my body through practices that would have me looking the part, ie bulimia and intense yoga practices. This focus in the early years of my teaching allowed me to remain on the surface of yoga, comfortable with the completely watered down and westernized practice of using the asana to push my students beyond their comfort zone in hot rooms that would have us sweating off the calories and feeling like rockstars for being able to make the sixth wheel pose happen through physical and mental exhaustion. Even when espousing beautiful, life affirming sayings, stories and quotes, let’s be real that the emphasis was still primarily on the physical body. It was an outcome based practice based entirely around what you could or could not do physically, wrapped in the illusion of spiritual mindfulness. And if I am being really, super honest, being able to get an entire room of people to do something that seemed incredibly hard or impossible, made me feel powerful. I would get high off of that feeling and if someone over in the corner wasn’t adhering to my class, my way, I would get incredibly annoyed or even hurt.
I hate sharing this because it isn’t at all how I am as a teacher now or how I view yoga, but I think it’s vitally important that I speak to it so that others who have fallen into this same trap, may find their way out. And I can be objective enough to know that even though I pretended for all those years to be that kind of teacher, at my core it isn’t who I am. It never really fit, no matter how hard I tried to make it so. Perhaps that is why I never reached full yogalebrity status, thankfully.
It wasn’t until I became a mom and my body changed so much that my practice had to as well that I woke up. After years of trying to shape myself, often quite literally, into the kind of teacher who would also be the most popular teacher, I came to a stunning realization that not only was I harming myself, I was complicit in upholding the self-harm of others. Even though I have always come to any space with compassion, I still continued to believe that hard was the cool and badass way, while soft and gentle was for the birds. And my teaching at times reflected that. As my personal practice changed and softened, so did my understanding of what being a good teacher actually meant. I started practicing with teachers whose goal was not to set a bar that I had to meet and rise up to, but teachers whose purpose was to allow for the students' bar to be exactly enough, regardless of personal agenda. It felt so good and right to me all of a sudden and a kind of inner resistance that I had been harboring for years began to unwind.
I essentially took two years off from teaching to become a mom, aside from doing a class a week via Facebook live. When I came back to the studio to teach two years later I would be asked “where did your fire go?”. I still had some of it and could quickly utilize it after years and years of practice, but authentically it wasn’t my teaching tool of choice any longer. In fact, the emphasis of my teaching stopped being about me at all and became about asking myself how I could be for the generosity of my students. It’s not a popularity maker, at least not in the section of the yoga world I was a part of. But it felt so much better to actually be for others rather than only be for others bolstering my own ego. The latter way is manipulative and perpetuating a deeply insidious problem in the yoga world, the idea that the person standing at the front of the room is some kind of otherworldly being in all their glorified coolness. That if you do that sixth wheel even though you are physically and mentally exhausted, you will somehow be just like them, or the distorted perception of who we think they are. It’s power at its worst and most addictive stage.
When I say beware of the Yogalebrity, I do mean in those we learn from, but also within ourselves as yoga teachers. If our aim is to be the most popular, gain the most likes and make the most money, we have to ask ourselves, are we really in it for the yoga, or are we there because it just seems like a really good business plan? (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)
The tricky thing about yoga in the modern world is that it can make narcissists of us all. With all the emphasis and talk about the “self”, especially in rooms that are dripping with privilege, it is easy to quickly forget that the real practice of yoga is not to have it live within the walls of a studio or even ourselves for the purpose of personal power and revolution. The real purpose and heart of yoga is to live in a way that is generous to ourselves and one another and to become consistently aware of how we do harm in the world, take from others and live ethically and with integrity knowing that our actions affect more than just us.
So I say beware the yogalebrity, for it is very possible that they have used these practices to their own twisted advantage and forgotten, or perhaps never really known, what yoga is really about. And may we continue to check in and check that within ourselves.
Each week I am now going to do a Moving Forward segment on my blog. This is where I discuss solution based possibilities towards making certain spaces in the world of wellness, yoga and mediation better in terms of equity, equality, inclusion and in true alignment with what these practices actually are, at their heart.
In this week’s Moving Forward I focus on two things that would greatly benefit the yoga, meditation and wellness world better:
I just got done having a conversation with someone at Insight Timer that I think is important to share and a prime example of what I am talking about.
I am a teacher on the app and a regular user. I love it and yet, I have been hesitant of late to schedule any more live sessions and upload any more of my own meditations.
As a teacher, you sign up, create a profile and can upload content that you have created until your heart’s content. You can also schedule live sessions, where people can join you for a meditation, talk or yoga class via their live stream portal. During the session, people are welcome to donate at any time and click a bell like feature to subscribe to your profile so they are alerted when new content is uploaded.
Here is what I love: there are literally thousands of amazing teachers on this app who have offerings of all kinds, much of it for free. You also have the option to purchase a Member Plus subscription within the app to have an all access pass to any of the classes and content that are more in depth. I currently have one myself (more on that in a moment). That being said, you could certainly never purchase a subscription and still have plenty of content available to you, at any time of the day or night. I am completely for making practices more accessible. I think it’s important that there are generous offerings all over the place to help navigate mental and emotional health through practices like mediation. I am a big fan of that and in truth, I love being able to offer it as an option in the midst of my own paid offerings. I would love to put myself on the Insight Timer app schedule regularly so anyone who can’t do my own subscription services, could drop in and donate if they can that day, but no worries if they cannot. I also am a huge believer in having access to more than one teacher because one huge problem in spiritual practices these days is that we tend to adhere to one person’s perspective, get wrapped up in it and quickly forget that there are so many other rich and valuable practices and teachers out there to explore. Diversifying who we learn from, matters.
However. One of the rules of their community guidelines is that you are not allowed to promote or speak about anything outside of the content that you have on the Insight Timer app. Meaning that I cannot share my website or any of the many other classes, workshops or programs that I am charging for, for anyone who may be interested to purchase. I also have free services, such as this blog that I also cannot promote. Now if I were an employee, or possibly (maybe) even being paid a fee to teach that class in the first place, I might understand this to a degree. Again, maybe. But the mere fact that I am taking my time (remember that’s a resource), energy and content and placing it on their app for their direct benefit, yet whether or not I make any money, depending on how much people donate is completely up in the air. To date I have made a total of $31.29 and I have 10 meditations available and done about six live sessions. I have no idea how many of those people have an actual subscription simply because none of that actually gets put in the pockets of the teacher, or at least a teacher of my level. It’s very possible that there are a lot of teachers who put a lot of time, effort and energy in and do see a big return on their investment. But that is actually an even bigger problem.
When I shared this concern with Insight Timer, the first response was to say that it was based on my performance, sharing content and then increasing the number of followers I have. They suggested that I upload more meditations (more work) and share them on my different social media accounts (more time) to gain more followers and attract more people to use their platform. So I want to be clear about something, when they say it’s based on performance...what they actually mean is my performance of how good I am at social media. Not at my performance as a meditation teacher. One thing I know is that I am a damn good teacher and I think it’s highly unfair to lump the two of those factors in as if they are not two very different things.
I want to be very clear that I am not anti-Insight Timer and my intention is not to take them down. This is not a practice that is unique to them. I can’t tell you how many free classes I have taught for big chain stores or trainings I have attended at studios for entire days worth of time under the guise of getting more “knowledge”. This has been a big and overriding problem in the yoga and wellness world for a very long time where teachers are asked to give of their time and effort generously for some kind of promised promotion or gain that can’t actually be guaranteed.
I want to create a solution. A first step in that is creating awareness specifically around Insight Timer and anyone who uses this app, which I know are a lot of people. It is important that you know that most teachers do not get paid by the app itself, but rather make only what gets donated. To not be able to promote oneself as an independent contractor and teacher, who works insanely hard at making her livelihood feels incredibly wrong. To be asked to work harder to bring people to the app itself and bring in new content for them, with absolutely no guarantee of income and a complete inability to share what other offerings we do have, also feels wrong.
Here are some other solution based things to consider:
I am grateful to She who had the conversation with me today and told me that my concerns will be brought up to the development team. But I am also going to make sure that this truly happens and that a change is considered because I want to be part of a solution that keeps practices accessible for the students and equitable for every teacher who pours their heart and soul into creating good and valuable content because without us, Insight Timer wouldn't be the #1 free app for sleep, anxiety and stress.
For now, I am remaining on the app because this isn't a boycott. I am hoping that the powers that be will simply consider an allowance for more autonomous promotion, transparency and sustainability that will benefit everyone involved. There is more than enough to go around and I believe that if we work together instead of only being out for ourselves, everyone will actually be better off.
Making yoga, meditation and wellness more accessible for all is a must. So is making it sustainable for the teachers who shoulder the bulk of the effort put forth at the benefit of the studio, company and spaces that profit off our work.
Have a thought about this? I welcome your comments below!
For full transparency, I am sharing the conversation I had with She today:
My plan was to post this on the year anniversary of writing it, which is May 30th. It can’t wait. I should probably think about posting it every single day, until one day it actually lands in the hearts and minds of every single white person in America.
I have personally spent this last year doing so much learning and unlearning around my own racism and white supremacy. I still have a long way to go. In fact, I started a website called wedotheworkhere.com a year ago and realized very quickly that I was not yet ready and capable of leading this conversation.
I still have a lot of work to do and I'm not perfect at this. But I am ready to share and speak to this again and I am very clear on in who it is I am speaking to: white yoga teachers and wellness influencers.
Our industry is riddled with racism and problematic power structures. For years now we have been able to walk into rooms and spout off lovely ideas and sayings that feel really really good to hear and to say. And we have been able to do that because we have a kind of privilege that allows us to be in that room in the first place and take on that kind of belief system that would have us believe that we can be up to bigger and better things. Because we can, because the systems were built for that to remain true for us.
Meanwhile, Black men are being gunned down and kneeled upon for no reason at all. Black women are experiencing higher maternal mortality rates than anyone else in the country. The Black community is dying of COVID at higher rates than any other community. And Black voters are being suppressed by new laws being established to make it easier to keep the old systems healthy and continuing.
But here we are talking about getting to choose our reality, being in love with our lives, staying positive, doing the work, holding the line or talking about the injustice of not being to just sit in a bar and order a glass of wine. This is racism. I know, I know, none of this is a direct target at people of color. We aren’t saying openly racist things. But here is the thing: the absence of talking about what is happening in the world to other people who don’t have to luxury of walking into these spaces of wellness, ignoring the need to speak to any of it in the space where we are aiming to live up to a “higher version of ourselves”, is racist. And classist. And oppressive.
I took a break from social media a little while ago. I am not going to lie, it was glorious. I got to focus all of my time and attention on me, growing my business and my family. These are wonderful things. But a few months ago I also realized that I was also ignoring what was going on in the rest of the world, specifically in the arena of social change and justice. Yes, I was reading articles and the news. I continued to donate money and sign petitions and have direct conversations with people. But I wasn’t really active in my activism the same way. Because I didn’t have to be. Because that is my privilege.
I chose to come back because somewhere I read how the Black Lives Matter movement couldn’t have happened without social media. I read about how those little black squares that we all posted a year ago actually wiped out an entire library of resources and work that had been beneficial to the Black community and raising awareness. On one hand, you could make the argument that getting off of social media as white people would be a hell of a good thing. We tend to meddle and try to “fix” and make things way worse at times (listen to Nice White Parents for proof of that). And yet, it also alerted me to how important it is as a white woman in wellness and yoga to speak up and make statements in conjunction with the action I was doing outside of this space.
A friend of mine and incredible musician, Celisse Henderson recently shared the following on her Instagram Story, speaking to her white, cis gendered colleagues in the music industry:
“Something to consider…
If you are a white person who is incredibly active on social media when it comes to the promotion of your music/art/brand/ideas etc. but are completely and utterly silent in the face ot the constant harassment, degradation, and death of Black, Brown, Trans, Queer and LGBTQ+ people, I would ask you to not only consider why that is, but how you think it makes these groups of people feel to experience your deliberate silence?
A special note to my many white, cis gendered colleagues- what does it mean to have a career centered around playing pop, soul, roots, blues, R&B, rock country music, (the list can go on and on) created on the back of Black people but choose to be more concerned with losing followers/your brand perception than the actual lives of the people, whom without your career would not exist?
Any of you that know me on any level, know that I say this lovingly, as a real perspective I would implore you to ponder. I am not here to shame you, but to tell you that your apathy is seen, felt and devastating to experience.
Before you post another video of your own content and nothing else, I will leave you with a word that constantly stays at the forefront of my thoughts.
‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul?’”
Friends and colleagues in the wellness and yoga world. I ask us all the same question. You may think that yoga is neutral, that social media isn’t the space for speaking up, but I am going to lovingly tell you, you are wrong. The music we play in our classes to accompany our teaching, how much of it is by musicians of color? The pretty little phrases we are able to roll trippingly off our tongues, we are only able to say them because our privilege to even be able to be in those spaces was built on oppressive systems that allow us to have the money, time and access to even being in those spaces. Neutrality and silence are not only dangerous, but they are our complicity.
I have been most recently and closely associated with the Baptiste yoga community in the last few decades of my career. It is currently and thankfully in the midst of going through its own very necessary reckoning around social justice, sexual misconduct and power. There is this phrase that is constantly bandied about: “Do the work”. I have to ask, what is this work that we are talking about? If it is only getting more closely acquainted with a methodology and kind of personal empowerment that leaves us feeling good in our own skin, but isn’t interested in examining how that skin has been a free pass to even be able to consider a “personal revolution” in the first place, then I am so out and calling it: The continued silence and lack of words, yes even and especially on social media, is violent. And it’s not wellness or yoga. It’s racism.
And for my friends and colleagues in yoga and wellness who are interested in making changes and being radically honest with how our own racism continues to perpetuate and uphold problematic systems, most especially in wellness, begin with this article from The Cut and listen to these stories from Black women in wellness. Follow and donate to Anti-Racism Daily and SHARE their social templates that they freaking create for you! In time, you will become more and more comfortable with finding your own words, but you have to begin somewhere.
Please hear me friends, I am not here to shame anyone. Shame is not a tool for social justice and I know that. But another Black man died at the hands of a white police officer. A woman no less. We have work to do and we cannot actually get to it until we honestly acknowledge our own racism. Again. A year later after we watched one of the most horrible lynchings of our time in broad daylight, on tv, with an entire world watching. What you have to say about it, matters and will be the difference between continuing business as usual, or actually disrupting it.
“Come from we are connected” is another nice sounding phrase that often gets said in Baptiste Yoga. It’s lovely isn’t it? It’s very much in line with other popular yogi phrases such as “we are one”, yoga meaning union or the culturally appropriated (and inappropriately used) meaning of Namaste: “The light in me bows to/is the same as the light in you”.
**side note: I have learned from the amazing Susanna Barkataki that there is actually no I in the true meaning of Namaste and it is a greeting used to honor elders, not an ending as it has been appropriated”**
Anyways, these are all lovely and nice ideas, that we are all connected by some greater power or energy or really the way I see it: what you do affects me and what I do affects you. I’m totally down with coming from we are connected. I believe it and I believe in living that way.
And what has been so incredibly disheartening this last year is that so many yoga leaders and wellness advocates alike have actually seemed to be coming from the exact opposite place. In the middle of a global pandemic where a tiny microscopic virus has been wreaking havoc on the collective of humanity, most especially marginalized communities and people, I have heard more talk from wellness and yoga leaders about the unfairness being bestowed upon them not being able to work, or live life the way they are used to, more than any recognition or reverence paid to the very reason WHY so many of us have been forced to surrender our livelihood for the time being...because people. have. died.
Believe me, I understand how much it sucks to be someone who wants to work but cannot. I was once an actor and am married to one. You get to do the work you love doing, if you’re lucky, a small percentage of the time. Both my husband and I had to pivot in this pandemic. He even had to pivot from his pivot that he relied on in normal times, when the work of his choice as an actor wasn’t happening. And we have both spent this year working, incredibly hard I might say, towards trying to figure out how we can now create a financial livelihood for ourselves and our family that will be as sustainable as we can make it. We are waiting on some things to see if they come to fruition and as I have spoken about recently, our immediate and long term future is incredibly uncertain at this moment. It sucks. And it’s ok.
We understand that in the last year, our lives and familiar world have been rocked because we could no longer afford to live in the city that was our home, because neither of us had work there because people were dying from a deadly virus. We understand that it’s difficult for him as a white cisgender male to get a job teaching at the collegiate level right now because most insitiutions are having to take an honest look at the equity and diversity of their departments and recognizing that they have work to do, which will inherently effect who they hire. We understand that for the first time ever, being a white cisgender male is making certain privileges go away. And we understand that if things are going to change, these are some of the ways in which we will be affected as two people who hold privilege. And because we come from we are connected, we are ok with it. Don’t get me wrong, I want both he and I to be doing work that fulfills us and makes a difference in this world. I want us to be able to provide for our daughter and for her to be well taken care of. But I also want things to change and so if that means that life gets a bit harder for us, or really the playing field gets more and more leveled, so be it. It’s time. Actually, it's overdue.
Calling out unfairness simply because I’m being told that we haven’t quite figured out yet how to make things safe and right for everyone, not just the privileged few, is really only taking a stand for oursel It’s not zooming out to take a moment to recognize our individual place in the bigger picture and really taking stock in where we fall on the privilege scale. It’s ignorant and focused solely on individualism and capitalism over collectivism and real connection.
Look, I know leaders have screwed up. I know that it hasn’t been done perfectly or even well at times. Politics itself is a very messed up space at the moment. And there is accountability and dismantling to be done there just as much as every other space. But none of us, not one of us including our politicians and leaders have ever lived through a pandemic before. There isn’t a manual. There is science and data and public health standards. And as much as I ONE HUNDRED PERCENT stand behind the need for better social and emotional integrative practices into our society, like yoga and meditation and even certain natural health and wellness practices, it cannot come at the expense of the safety of those who don’t have access to those spaces and practices in the first place. We are important and essential as human beings and our work as champions of well-being is essential. But our business (as usual) may not be essential to the moment of need. It’s a radically honest truth that may not want to be heard, but I’ll say it because I believe that we can hold two truths at the same time: our work can be essential overall and in the now, not so much. It doesn’t have to indicate or mean anything about our personhood or our choice of career. It doesn’t mean we have to stop either because we can innovate in ways that keep it going and keep it safe. And many have, including myself. But it’s not unfair simply because we want to work as we always have, because it feels better to us. I am willing to bet that if we could ask the 550,000 plus who have died as well as their families, that they would want to be able to work too, but that being alive is much, much better.
So yes, come from we are connected. Say it often and to others if you wish. But only if you can really make it mean a kind of connection that doesn't stop just at what and who you can see directly in front of you. Only if it doesn't stay a nice phrase that falls trippingly off the tongue but when faced with making choices, both practically and in our attitudes, that would really prove that the connection is real, you back out because of your personal inconvenience.
I believe that we are connected and that what I do affects an entire ecosystem of other humans, even people I have never and will never meet. And so because of that, I got my vaccine today. My daughter came with me and held my hand. It’s been quite a year that has turned her life upside down and inside out. But I can’t stop at just being concerned about her life, because that wouldn’t make me the kind of mom I want to be, who raises her child to see beyond the end of her own nose and recognize that the reason why she matters so much is because she has an actual and very real impact on others. Not just a superficial one that looks good on Instagram.
How are you coming from we are connected today, but for real? Share in the comments because I genuinely want to hear from YOU...because we ARE connected!
Last night I led The Meditation Circle in a Loving Kindness meditation. Except, I revised it. If you are unfamiliar with practicing Loving Kindness, essentially you meditate on specific people in your life: those you love deeply and to which that love comes easily, those who are more of a neutral presence in your life and those with whom you struggle with and have a difficult time loving. There are many different adaptations of course, but this is the basic and overall structure. The idea is that when you find the ability to extend loving kindness towards all people, especially those with whom you struggle, you get the great benefit of being the receptor of that kind of love. The concept of loving kindness is that the love you are extending isn’t only for the benefit of others, but for the benefit of ourselves. It is supposed to be the embodiment of true compassion towards all sentient beings. And for a long time I understood this concept and readily accepted it.
However, these days I cannot help but wonder if the way in which Loving Kindness is set up is actually problematic. The concept of Loving Kindness was brought to popularity by many famous teachers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tich Nat-Han and Tara Brach. I mean no disrespect to them, but I challenge the idea that we have to spend very much time at all extending love to anyone who wouldn’t take care of that love with integrity and respect. If love is energy then why even spend time exerting towards the people who would do nothing with that energy but exhaust it? Even if that person is only active in our life through our contemplation of meditation, why even give them our attention? We live in a culture that is constantly asking us to over extend ourselves for others in the name of love and kindness, but the truth is that not everyone is entitled to our love. Not everyone is entitled to our kindness. They are both earned and to be nurtured between two consenting adults who are BOTH doing the work of nurturing.
And to be clear, the opposite of not being entitled to love and kindness is not meanness and hate. We must not be so divisive. Being purposely mean and hateful is it’s own kind of energy, not really that dissimilar to that of love and kindness in terms of effort. Instead, we can simply safeguard ourselves by not giving any energy towards those who would not use it well. It also doesn’t mean neutrality but rather radical honesty in which we allow ourselves to state that a person is not deserving of my loving kindness at this moment, either because I do not have the capacity or because they have shown me time and time again that they cannot handle it with care. You could call it a kind of detach with love, because the love is in the name of yourself and your boundaries. You could simply call it detachment because I’m not sure it even matters whether or not love is involved. Love is one of my most favorite emotions and actions, yet we have certainly abused it by calling things out in the “name of love” when really what we are doing is gaslighting our way into toxic positivity. Love is important and precious and yet it does not need to be extended to all at all times because while it feels nice to say “love everyone”, real true and deep love is not always about being nice. Nice, especially in the context these days of social and racial justice can actually be incredibly harmful. And while I could also continue on about how being nice and being kind are not the same thing, I will save that for another day.
My point friends is that part of our work in the world of wellness that exists in 2021 is to really examine some of the old truths we have accepted as such for a very long time. Perhaps many of them, if not all, need an update. When it comes to the concept of loving kindness, for me and for those I teach, I want to extend a different way of going about it so that you walk away from it feeling much more full of love than depleted or as if love is some kind of universal truth that everyone has access to, even though it's a very intimate part of your humanhood.
Here is how I went about it last night instead:
Imagine someone in your life who loves you deeply sitting right next to you. This is someone whose love is so potent that you feel it radiating right through you. Their love for you is unquestioned. Feel the sensation, the emotion and the energy of that love.
Do the same thing with another person in a similar kind of love on the other side of you. Then picture yourself surrounded by anyone else in your life whose love you also know of and feel is readily available to you.
Now imagine the love you have for all of them and them feeling its potency as well. Feel the cyclical nature of how the love they poured in to you is also what is allowing you to pour back into them. There is an exchange of energy happening and while it may not always be effortless, it is filled with a sense of ease.
Now imagine one by one each of these people fades. You are left sitting there alone, except not at all alone. That love and energy, those sensations, that warmth of love that you felt even from just the thought of them, is here with you now. And with that precious love, you get to choose whom you bestow it upon, to whom you deem worthy to receive your personal energy of love by wishing them peace, happiness and a life that is filled with abundant love.
I did use a traditional Loving Kindness mantra aka May you be happy, at ease and free from pain. I decided afterwards that I would not include that in the future. At least the free from pain part. It’s not that we would wish pain on anyone, but to wish a life free from it is in all radical honesty, completely and totally impossible. Life contains pain. Whether it is physical, emotional, enduring or short lived. I don’t say this to be morbid or dark, but simply to allow ourselves to let go of some perfected idea that we could direct our energy in a way that would have someone living completely pain free, including ourselves. And that is very much the point of this entire contemplation, we don’t have to run anymore or pretend that seemingly unflattering truths don’t exist; not everyone gets to have access to our love. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t worthy of love, but perhaps not our own personal brand. And that’s ok. I think we will be far better served moving forward if we start talking about how some of the old practices have actually become outdated as we are learning more and more about the impact of gaslighting, toxic positivity and privilege in the wellness spaces. And while loving kindness seems like such a virtue to be able to bestow upon others, perhaps selectivity is an ok thing for the sake of truly being in the practice of being loving and kind first and foremost, to ourselves.
To join The Meditation Circle, visit my Weekly Offerings.
Question for YOU: Do you struggle with giving away energy to others who don't necessarily deserve it? How have you been able to create more boundaries for yourself? Answer in the comments below!
I had a client the other day say to me “I know all the things I should be doing”. My question back was, “says who? Why are you living and measuring your life against a set of standards that someone else, or society set for you?” Her response was because if I don’t, I will become A, B and C. I asked, “but is this true?” If you don’t do these things you think you should do, will you really end up lying on the couch all day eating cookies? Is that really who you think you are?
Of course the answer is no. We have been led to believe that if we just do certain things, we will be kept from a part of ourselves that would continually be less than. Or if we don’t do them, we will become a version of ourselves that is wrong, lazy, fat, ugly or just plain not enough of a human being that is worthy of anything good in this life.
The truth is that the wellness industry is designed and maintained to have you not believe your own mind and heart because that way, they can keep you coming back for more. In fact, it’s not really wellness, it’s capitalism wrapped in the beautiful, filtered, pastel pictures presented to you as wellness. Our trust in ourselves has been usurped for the sake of the ability to make more money off of the idea that there is a better and more amazing version of yourself somewhere out there, if only you would push yourself into submission and spend enough money to find that version.
I don’t believe for one second that this is who people really are. That if left to their own devices they would lie around all day, every day and do absolutely nothing at all. I also think that some days that is a perfectly acceptable and valuable choice to make. But at the end of the day, there is nothing you should do except listen to yourself and truly learn to trust your heart and your own mind. And to be clear, I am not saying that all wellness spaces are bad, or that paying money for classes and practices that support us in being well is bad, obviously. It may seem contradictory as someone who makes a living from doing just that to be saying all of this, but it’s not if the learning that comes from those spaces is grounded in a messaging that first and foremost recognizes that being who and how you are, is enough. Messaging matters and it’s why I find it so valuable these days to continually examine and weed through it all by asking the simple question “is this really true?”.
Here are some common examples of messages based on should thinking, either directly or underlying:
Is the focus solely on the body and how it should look because of the class and outcomes based in physical aesthetics?
Are there specific body parts mentioned in the title of the class, because we should have abs of steel, bootylicious behinds and chiseled arms?
Are the classes you are taking, about the teacher themselves? This fosters a I should be more like them mindset. Real wellness is never about the teacher.
Are the general themes of a class or teacher about making you step up to a bigger and better place in your life because you should be up to something bigger than yourself?
Are they demanding from you in a way that lacks any kind of compassion and instead call you out and away from your own knowing? Because you should be able to do that pose or exercise, it’s just your mind getting in your way? (This is also power over leadership fyi)
Is the talk all about and only about positivity because you should be able to turn that frown upside down and have better control over your mindset? Aka toxic positivity
Is the general culture of the community one where you should be signing up to do all the training, workshops and programs because that is the only way you will benefit from the work?
In the teacher/instructor community you should be so grateful for opportunities that don’t pay you, but you get to trainings, workshops, programs for free? You should be volunteering your time and energy for the sake of community and self betterment?
You should be eating these foods, but not these foods.
You should use organic and free range and all natural no matter what they cost.
You should mediate.
You should journal.
You should let go of that.
You should focus on this instead.
And then there are all the shouldn’t’s:
You shouldn’t feel sad or angry or fear if you’re really practicing and doing the work.
You shouldn’t leave the room.
You shouldn’t take a break or even need that break.
You shouldn’t eat meat.
You shouldn’t be vegan.
You shouldn’t eat dairy.
You shouldn’t sleep in.
You shouldn’t stay up late.
You shouldn’t have a messy house.
You shouldn’t use chemicals.
You shouldn’t do this, you should do that instead.
My entire point is this: if the person is saying should, even if that person is yourself, I highly recommend questioning why and is that actually true? Because here’s the thing: shoulding on ourselves without real understanding as to why, ultimately leads us to feeling guilty when we don’t do the things we “should” or do the things we “shouldn’t”. And here is where I am going to quote the INCREDIBLE Jeffrey Marsh to you: “Guilt is useless. Guilt is fake. Guilt is actually a whole set of problems that you do not deserve”. In fact, I am going to link this very important video for you to go watch where he explains what guilt really is and how the problem is that often the way we know who we are is actually and tragically, through our guilt.
And here’s the major thing that Jeffrey brings up in his video and something that I am always, always, always saying to my clients: in those moments when you recognize that perhaps in the past you didn’t do something you wished you had, or are constantly concerning yourself with how to be better in the future, instead of the guilt of all the shoulds, try present compassion. Have the utmost, one hundred percent amount of compassion for the mere fact that you are a human being who is alive right now and doing their very best. Most importantly, recognize that whether you do the things of the “shoulds” or “should nots” they are not who you are. You are not the person in the messages that would have you believe that if you do not adhere to the strictures, you will fall backward into an abyss of unworthiness and less than-ness. That your happiness will totally be compromised because you aren’t living up to your best self. Upholding shoulds and the guilt that ultimately comes is to uphold the cycle of thinking that you need to keep measuring how well you are doing in life by standards that are set for and by someone else. Oftentimes, someone who doesn’t even know you and the context of your life at all.
I laugh with my clients all the time because as a teacher, I often dwell in the space of ambiguity when it comes to how to be well. Every single eMOTION class is different from the next, there is no set structure. Every meditation is different from that last. I no longer adhere to any specific methodology choosing instead to open up my own breadth of learning and knowledge not basing any one thing as a standard of truth. I believe in asking questions more than finding answers and that the asking itself has a power bigger than we even realize. At first, it can feel overwhelming and I honor that. Our minds are not used to having choices with no clear answers laid out because it’s been far easier to package the promise of answers as a business plan. However, what also happens in this space of ambiguity is that eventually we become practiced at simply making a choice, without needing it to be correct or incorrect and we learn that we are more than capable of navigating the outcome, whatever it may be. We learn to trust ourselves in a much truer way than popping the pill of someone else’s certainty. To me, this is real wellness. A kind that is free of guilt and shoulds and completely wide open to a kind of learning that doesn’t require us to bind ourselves to someone else’s idea of what would be good for us. Instead what we learn, much to our surprise, is that we are in fact good without the should.
If you are interested in this kind of wellness, I would love to welcome you to my offerings of ambiguity!
Project eMOTION is a beautiful way to explore each one as a package deal. We are starting up again this Sunday.
The Movement & Stillness subscription gives you access to eMOTION classes and Meditation sessions.
And of course there is always the option of working one on one with me. This allows for us to work together in your specificity and context of life, but in a way that will only be about nurturing trust in yourself, your mind and your heart, honestly, with integrity and complete agency and autonomy.
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.