Tag Archives: Emotions

A personal lesson in shame

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shame on youIt’s been awhile, but this weekend I had an experience where I felt deep shame. It didn’t feel good and one day later, I can already laugh about it, but it was a valuable and vulnerable enough experience that I want to share this story about myself with you. The shameful event happened during my yoga teacher training. There was a guest teacher – a very good one, by the way* – and she brought with her a lesson for me.

The Scene

I was running late that morning, so I ended up sitting in the back of the room, not my typical spot – but close to it. In yoga class I tend to favor the back rows unlike my usual, front-row sitting, over zealous self. The reason why I go to the back row at yoga is because as far as asana (or postures) go I am still at the “beginners” level (at least compared to my classmates). Therefore, I do not like to place myself where the more “confident” folk sit, or rather stand, on their heads.

Needless to say, when a teacher with a good eye for students who “need help” is with you all weekend, it doesn’t matter what row you sit in, you will be found.

And so it happened for me, we started the day yesterday in an assisted deep chest and lower back opener. We laid with our backs on the floor, our knees bent and touching and our feet resting at the outer edges of our mats. Underneath our nipple line there was a rolled up blanket to help us go into an assisted backbend, and our arms were in goal posts at the side of our heads.

Well, that is the picture of what the “good” students looked like anyway. I was not one of them.

Me, myself and I, we were lying on our back, yes! Any chance to lay down and take a rest. But my knees were not touching, and my rolled up blanket was up too high – a little too close to my shoulders – causing my arms to come off the floor a bit awkwardly. Now re-envisioning the scene, I start to understand how the teacher might have noticed me.

How could you miss a student who had robot arms, slightly suspended in the air, because they couldn’t quite touch the ground? And to top it off, because I was a bit up in the air, I also did myself the favor of placing a small block underneath my head so I could try to enjoy the full restorative action of the pose (well, minus the whole arms in the air thing).

Well pretty soon, I hear the teacher voice call out, “Your knees should be touching!” (This was not the first time I had heard her cue what I felt was directed especially at me).

As I heard this instruction I also heard steps moving quickly in my direction. As fast as I could, I brought my knees together, and before I knew it the teacher hovered above me.

Continuing her yell-talking, she said with a sharp tongue, “I’m not trying to scold you, but you really need to learn how to follow directions!” My eyes were closed, and I kept them closed.

She then moved my blanket lower as she was still hovering above me. SNAP, CRACKLE, POP. My back opened and released. And without notice she pulled the block from underneath my head. As my head hit the floor, defeated, she said, “Now, is it really that difficult for you to be in that pose?” (Almost insinunating I was faking it – did she consider that I maybe never knew I could bend that far?)

So I laid there in silence for I feared if I was to say anything it would make matters worse. I waited  and waited and waited for her to leave. That wasn’t happening. She said to the class, “Just bare with me a moment, keep breathing. I’m dealing with this.”

I opened my eyes and quickly looked away. She was still there. I continued to not really say anything and she whispered, but loud enough so all 30 people in the room could still hear, “See, you can handle it.” And her footsteps left in stride, with less anger this time around and more satisfaction, like a mission was accomplished. And just like that, she was back in the front of the classroom continuing her lesson.

And there I was. Laying in all my vulnerability, in quite a lot of physical pain actually. She put me in a position that pushed a personal edge, but as one might imagine, due to the manner I got to that edge, a lot of emotional information was also pulsating throughout my body.

As she lead us through this opening “warm-up,” I found tears streaming slowly down the sides of my temples, and I was starting to choke on my breath, the breath that was supposed to be getting deeper and deeper by now.

But I was not a good student. I was shame. My breath was only getting more shallow.

As she had us sit-up to transition into the next pose, my inner voice or I should say ego was telling me, “Get over it. You’re fine. Don’t be a baby, don’t make this a big deal. Quit crying. STOP. I said, STOP it. You’re being dumb. Don’t be a victim. You’re always a victim. Were you listening? Do you ever listen? Get over yourself. Quit crying. They’re going to hear you! They can hear you!”

At the same time, my body’s internal dialogue told a different story, and that story was, “Don’t worry, you received your lesson for today’s practice. It’s time to leave. Don’t run away from your emotions, come closer, deal with us, let us out, we’re coming out!”

The latter voice won, mainly because the ego wasn’t in control at this point, my body was. The tears wouldn’t stop. I left the room with haste, not sure where I would go or what would happen next. Luckily someone found me crying in a corner and brought me to a room where I could be alone to let it pass.

I didn’t return to class for 45 minutes.

The Lesson

I learned so much and still am learning from this experience of shame. Right now some lessons I learned from the scenario include:

1) Be kind with your words. Words are powerful, use them wisely and speak mindfully. I recognize that I, like the teacher, can use my words in a way that can be hurtful to others. And remembering the times I have been on the receiving end, makes it hard for me to justify not being kind to others. I must always be gentle with my words. You never know how they may sound to another person.

2) Look beyond the surface. Dig deeper. There is a bigger story to every symptom. Don’t be afraid to investigate. My adverse and uncontrollable reaction to this event was deeply connected to many experiences and memories within myself that have not been dealt with that still need proper attention. By the time I was 30 minutes into my crying, it really had little to do with what was said or exchanged. I stayed with the feelings and took time to begin recognizing, working through and releasing what came forward.

3) Don’t embody shame. It’s bad for you. Operating from the belief that you are wrong or bad is never going to serve you. That is where I went when I started feeling ashamed of myself. No matter what someone says to you or how you may be feeling, be with the feeling but do not attach to it. Let the feeling pass through you, do NOT become it.

4) When you are ready, seek community. I have always been a woman who cared a lot about the people in my circles and outside my circles. I have also been the person who retreats into herself and does not ask for help. It’s okay to receive love and a hug from someone who cares about you. Thank you to the classmates who sat with and acknowledged the discomfort I was embodying and thank you for the hugs and healing touch, you know who you are.

5) Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. I wrote a post before about vulnerability and Brené Brown. Her message never gets old. We need more people to be vulnerable and to stop avoiding what is difficult and what is tough. Don’t run away from your emotions, explore them, let them pass and then learn from them.

If you’re looking for more, here is another video of Brené Brown on listening to shame:

*In no way do I harbor ill-will or emotions toward this teacher. I would actually recommend her. I learned a lot this weekend and would never ask for a different outcome. Had I not dealt with my emotions head on I may have projected some anger and other four-letter words in her direction, but I spent the time to debunk what was really bothering me. I received my lesson with gratitude.

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Food Sadhanas: 4 Practices to Keep Your Mind & Body Whole

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After prenatal yoga teacher training a few weekends ago, I was inspired to reacquaint myself with Ayurveda (India’s traditional healing system). As a person who associates my primary dosha as pitta (fire), I reviewed the list of foods and spices that I am supposed to avoid according to ayurvedic principles. I quickly remembered why I didn’t pay much attention to Ayurveda when we covered it in graduate school–as a pitta I am to avoid or limit many foods that I love–like garlic, onions, and spices to name a few. Messing with a pitta’s cherished food is not a fun or an easy matter. In fact, it might be dangerous. If you are part-pitta, you know what I’m talking about. With this one fact in mind, it’s no wonder I decided against adopting this healing system into my way of life.  And yet, here I am blogging about it and thinking about my views and practices around food.  Maybe it’s a sign I need to revisit Ayurveda.

For today, I did not come here to discuss the particular foods as they relate to my body type and Ayurveda, but I came more so with the intent to speak about food sadhanas. To keep it simple, a sadhana (sod-a-na) is a special practice. This practice is typically a wholesome/spiritual activity that is connected to nature, and it is a pattern that is based on the memory of the universe. It is an action that can lead to those “a-ha” moments that some of us seek out and some of us avoid. According to Maya Tiwari, sadhana awakens our cognitive memory and replenishes the lost art of beauty, grace, and accommodation. Through sadhana we can better connect to the earth and to our own internal and external environment.

The simple act of cooking and eating can inspire and rejuvenate our body’s cognitive memory. Food sadhanas are so important to “waking up” and connecting to nature and others, because food takes us through the complete cycle of life and elicits universal memories. From seed to waste to seed, this central practice helps our whole life come into balance. Special food practices help us reacquaint with nature and with our own nature. And yet, today, confusion about food is the norm. People consult with dieticians and nutritionists to navigate their relationship with food. And who can blame us? With the way most food is produced, there is no wonder why we have “experts” who exist to help us with it all. However, if we look at it from a very basic perspective–from the perspective of a food sadhana or food practice, we all can agree that we know more answers to our questions about food than we realize. And we also know that many of us are guilty of not engaging fully or honestly in our food practices.

Some food for thought today surrounds some basic and timeless concepts that connect the individual to the greater community/world through simple food practices. We often think about what we eat as being important to our health but not about the practice of how we eat.

Practice #1 Expressing Gratitude 

When it’s time to sit down for a meal or food, how often are you grateful? How often do you think about the farmer or person who made this food available to you? And how often do you send a thank you note either mentally or physically to that person? By being thankful and grateful while we eat, we have a peace of mind, which leads to a more peaceful digestion. How do you practice gratitude as it relates to your food practices? Do you offer to clean up after a meal? Or do you inhale the meal and move on to the next thing? Unsure about who to thank when you eat your food? Think about that for a minute. Investigate.

Practice #2 Emotional Eating–How do you feel?

A sweet meal can turn sour really easily if you are feeling in a dumpy mood. Never eat when you are upset. It is an insult to your body, the food, and the food-maker. How often do you eat when you are upset? Unfortunately, this practice is a habit many of us know too well or maybe even do without realizing. What would it look like if you did not eat when you were feeling down? How would your relationship with food change and how would your body change if you were not eating to fill a void?

Practice #3 Savoring the Flavor

Part of eating is for sustenance, but it’s also for enjoyment. Are you actually tasting what you are eating? Or are you checking your email? Or thinking about what you have to do or what you should have done? Are you chewing your food? Are you being present with your food and surroundings? Research has shown the importance of chewing food and being present. We all very well know that when we take our time eating, we usually feel better afterwards.

Practice #4 Eating in Community 

How often do you eat with your loved ones? Sharing is such a gift, and to share a meal with someone is a very healthy and necessary food practice. Through shared meals we cultivate friendships and make connections that are greater than ourselves to those around us which is important to our well-being. When we do not fulfill the human need to bond with others, we tend to try to bonding or attaching ourselves to other things, like the food itself, drugs, or possessions. When was the last time you shared a meal with someone? Were you fully present?

Main source: Ayurveda a Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari

Experiencing Winter’s Effects through Personal Illness

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If you live in Minnesota, then you know what I mean when I say, “Winter, what winter?”

While many people could get used to the mildness of this year’s season, I know plenty of others who are actually a little disappointed that there wasn’t a big snowstorm to lock people inside for a few days.  Personally, I fall into the latter camp. I definitely enjoy seeing people, bundled up, walking down the middle of city streets to the grocery store, because roads are too icy for driving. Yes, I enjoy cancelling plans due to bad weather conditions. Call me weird, or call me Minnesotan, I don’t know. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, I think we all can agree that winter offers an invaluable time for humans and animals to slow down, be with each other or without each other and really carve out time for rest and reflection.

Well the MN snowstorm never came this year, and people continue to speed down the roads by my house. I, too, have been in super-speed mode, and I was super-proud of it, too, until recently. Right as I checked my “to-dos” into “to-dones,” my body decided to create its own time and space for R & R through illness.  Already two times this winter I have been stopped dead in my tracks by bad colds (the ones that never seem to really go away), which is very unusual for me. Instead of the bitter and harsh winter influencing my behavior and setting me straight, my body reminds me that I still need to take time to slow down, reflect and let go of the parts of my life and myself that no longer work for me.

As I sit in recovery-mode, my emotions take me on quite a ride. From angry, to sad, to lonely to happy to grateful to confused to anxious–the list goes on, but now I have finally relaxed and realized that it’s okay be sick and it’s okay to let my body and self recover on their own schedule. It’s okay to do nothing. I can be patient. I can sit still. I can listen to and receive the messages my body sends me, and I can experience the transformative healing that occurs when one pays attention.

How is the mild, MN winter affecting your health?

Sometimes we fall ill to receive a greater message from ourselves. Can you think of a time you were sick and your body was trying to tell you something? Did you listen?

How can you listen to your body’s needs without falling into illness? 

Can illness be a good thing? Why or why not?