Walls are okay, but maybe put a door in.

I love interpersonal boundaries. They tell a story about our experiences. I can always sense when someone’s personal space is being encroached upon and will go to great lengths to maintain and restore that person’s confidence in their sense of security and safety. That’s my role as a yoga teacher. It has less to do with providing exercise than it does with providing my students an opportunity to explore their own boundaries, physical and mental.

Boundaries come in many forms. Some people don’t like to be touched. Some need a lot of alone time. Some don’t like to be addressed in certain ways. Some don’t like to be complimented. These are all valid boundaries that deserve to be respected.

I find myself, more often than not, having to turn around and grab the wrist of someone who has laid an uninvited hand upon me. People tend to mistake my amiable openness as a welcome to physical advances. This is more about that person’s lack of boundaries. And I’m happy to communicate where the boundaries are and aren’t.

Like geographical boundaries, interpersonal boundaries are largely invisible. What’s more, they are entirely fabricated because they usually derive from experiences we have in our lives in which our sense of safety or security are interrupted. I don’t like to call them walls because I don’t believe they are permanent structures. Boundaries are fluid and context is important.

However, the pressure is on each of us to both respect and communicate boundaries.

You don’t know what someone has been or is going through. Your words and actions toward them could potentially be triggering. Until you understand someone’s boundaries, you should respect the possibility that they exist on all levels. You should respect everyone’s space and time and body and feelings. If you knowingly stride past someone’s boundaries without their express permission, you are committing an act of violence.

This doesn’t mean walk on eggshells around people. It means be observant and use the best of your communication skills to inquire about someone’s needs. Not only does it save you from a dramatic incident, it shows that you truly care about another person. I find that the best relationships possess a sense of respect for each others’ boundaries and a sense of flexibility and forgiveness when they are unintentionally crossed.

Those of us with boundaries that we’re aware of also need to develop the skills to communicate our needs directly so that we feel safe and so that other people know how to address us. This doesn’t mean running around telling everyone you don’t like to be touched because you were sexually assaulted – you don’t owe that story to anyone. But it does mean forgiving others for their ignorance and gently educating them on the way you want to be treated. Honesty with others and with yourself is paramount.

Most of all, respect your own boundaries and be willing to be honest with yourself about them. This will help you to navigate the world in which we are constantly being tested. With patience and awareness, your own unhealthy boundaries will fall away and more opportunity for love and growth will come rushing in.

The Surrender of Survival

We hear a lot about surrender and letting go; notions thats that tend to set off our internal alarms. Surrender? Never! We’re hardwired to fight for our lives. Millions of years of human evolution based on the foremost principle of survival and someone asks you to just forget it? I don’t think so.

What you might not know is that Charles Darwin never said anything about “survival of the fittest.” Philosopher Herbert Spencer said it and he didn’t mean that the strongest or most aggressive animal will stand atop a mound of corpses.

Evolution is about adaptability and cooperation. The “fittest” of beings adapts to their environment and cooperates with members of its own and other species in what we know as the circle of life.

In the modern age, man is no longer in a battle with nature. Instead, humankind is at war with itself. And not just in terms of international war treaties – I’m referring to the ways in which we treat or trap our own selves. Our minds, bodies, and hearts.

Most of us in the West are raised under the presumption that the strong will survive. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, hard work pays off, don’t let anyone see you cry. You know, those principles, rooted in machismo, misogyny, and capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong – Surrender doesn’t mean dropping your duties. Just because God loves you doesn’t mean the divine is going to fold your laundry, fill your belly, or fix your car. Surrender, instead, is a state of mind. Surrender is a means of adapting to your external circumstances by relying on your intuition. Cooperating with your intuition will bring you better results than you would get by being dragged forward by your need to survive.

It’s imperative here to be able to distinguish between the intuition of the heart and the imagination of the mind. The mind is prone to be a slave to your ego and as such will foster astounding fantasies based on desired outcomes. Instead, the heart, which does not go leaping into the unascertainable future, is constantly present. You don’t make the heart beat – it beats of its own accord. You can ease its work by regulating your breath, but you can’t make it stop or go.

The mind is always busy finding ways to help you survive. However, when we train the mind to be still through practices like yoga and meditation, we find an altogether more powerful resource for our survival and our happiness within the heart.

By approaching all activities from the heart, we hone our intuitive faculty and put our intellect at its service. This requires surrendering fully to each moment as it comes, on each inhale and exhale.

While you fold your laundry, don’t let the mind chase your other chores. Fold your undies with love. Cultivate that good-good by staying present. Get into a car accident? Deep breaths and keep moving forward with love in your heart. Talking to someone you don’t want to talk to? Don’t move into a space of judgement. Stay with love. Bless that person.

It takes a lot of work to be able to surrender the ego, for the ego cares only about its own survival. Not that of others, not that of your own heart. Put your ego in the service of your heart. This is the new evolution. This makes you the fittest of humankind.

FEAR IS THE MIND-KILLER

Has anybody read or seen Frank Herbert’s Dune? It’s a brilliant sci-fi saga. I love anything set in outer space, I don’t care how bad it is, as long as there are no monsters. Sorry, Sigourney.

There’s this great quotation from Dune that I think speaks to our everyday struggle:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Wham! That is the best shit ever.

Fear is not your natural state of being. Fear is a by-product of your body-mind’s reaction to external stimuli. We wrongly identify with fear all the time when we say “I’m afraid.” Fear doesn’t define you. You experience it, but you are not it. You are something greater than fear, brighter than the sun itself.

Here’s what I think are the five most common sources of fearful thinking. Fortunately, they also come with powerful antidotes.

FEAR OF FAILURE

This one tends to be the biggest source of fearful action. That’s because we’re conditioned to focus on outcomes instead of processes. Instead of being in-the-moment, we’re looking too far ahead of where we are and what we’re doing. This puts a giant blind spot right in front of us and it’s usually in those blind spots that we tend to have breakdowns.

The remedy here is to act without expectations. Expectations, darlings, always lead to disappointment. Simply avoid them. Be in the process of what you’re doing, even if it’s just washing the dishes. If you’re focused on being done your chore, you’re going to get bored and frustrated. Just wash the dishes. Watch as you get things soapy and rinse them. Bring the mind to stillness there in that moment, whatever it is: writing, skiing, walking, fucking, eating, gardening.

The mind loves to run ahead of you and distract you from the actual task at hand. Train it to sit still and focus. You cannot fail – You can only learn. A process is more dynamic than a rigidly defined goal. To be dynamic, stay present. Have goals, but embrace the potential for them to change. Most likely, things will turn out better than you expected.

FEAR OF UNORIGINALITY

I’ve heard this excuse: It’s been done before.

So what? There are 7 billion people on this planet. I think that’s a pretty big audience for what you’ve got to offer. Keep trying until you find your niche.

I’ve lived a long time in a small resort town by the sea. It’s a beautiful artist’s community, full of writers and painters. But those painters have been painting the same views of the town for a century. Why would anyone keep buying their art? Because each person’s perspective is different and resonates with different people than their peer’s does.

Every one of us has an audience waiting for our work. The only unoriginal idea is the idea that it’s been done before.

FEAR OF VOLUME

I’ve got a laundry list of things to do as long as this essay. Every day I’ve got to wake up and do my asana practice, practice my harmonium, have coffee, write on my blog, hit the gym, have lunch, read this, clean that, watch this, eat that. Plus I’ve got a yoga studio to run, clients to book, two rents to pay, a teacher training manual to write along with two yoga books and a fiction novel. It goes on and on.

Don’t overwhelm yourself with how much you’ve got to do. Simply do one thing at a time. Prioritize your tasks and do one thing to completion at a time. Don’t start and abandon ten different things every day. Don’t start a task unless you can finish it, unless it’s a longer term project like a book or building a website. Organize a set timeframe every day to tackle each project and you’ll find yourself much happier as you get things done. You just have to act without expectations.

FEAR OF THE UNFAMILIAR

We do love our comfort zones. Unfortunately, creativity comes from pushing those boundaries that we live in. This causes friction, which creates energy. Nothing moves when it’s stuck in a rut. And being stuck in a rut is a choice we make by choosing not to break our patterns, change our behaviors, try new things, or give things up.

You don’t know what fresh hell each day is going to bring to you, so make it fun. Be delighted by the unknown. Alan Watts said that variety is the spice of life. So spice it up! Excite your senses and break free from what you think works for you. It’s probably not working for you.

FEAR OF DEATH

You will die. One day, some how. The details don’t matter. Death only matters insofar that it reminds us to live.

I had a big wakeup call when my younger brother died in 2012. Fuck, I thought, if a 23 year old with everything to gain can die, what have I got to lose? I’ve got to make sure I squeeze all the juice out of this life that I can.

Squeeze life to death before it squeezes you.

A Course In Miracles teaches that only love is real. I believe this. I believe that this power within my heart is my Guide. When I don’t listen closely to it, I stumble or lose my way. Fear is fuel for the ego but love will save the day. Even some of the harshest lessons I’ve endured taught me again and again to return to love.

Love is surrendering to the unknown, to the potential to learn, to the process. Acting always from a place of love, which sits still at your center, is like making magic happen. Try it out: Each thing you do, big or small, consciously and intentionally approach it from your heart instead of your head. You’ll be surprised by miracles and you’ll abolish fear for good.

Nothing solves your problems like solving your problems.

There is no panacea, no magical salve, no balm strong enough to heal the wounds you carry around with you. Not yoga, not a healthy diet, not shop-therapy, not talk-therapy. Nada. Zip. Not going to work. There, I said it.

If you want to solve your problems, you’ve got to face them. Just because you just did 108 sun salutations or figured out how to handstand doesn’t mean you’re cured of all your ills. You may be stronger and more patient, which is indubitably helpful, but let’s face it – you’ve still got that thing gnawing at you from the inside. That thing you regret saying, that dead person, that sense of failure, that unmet need. Whatever it is, there’s no workaround. Yoga is, in my opinion, the supreme method of lightening our proverbial loads by enlightening our hearts, but you still have to do the hard work of unblocking yourself of all the shit you’ve been clinging to that no longer has any relevance to the holy instant – the be-here-now and let-it-go of this very moment.

I’m a huge proponent of psychotherapy. In college and after my brother’s death, I went straight to the couch and talked through my feelings with a qualified professional. I’m sure one day I’ll even waste my time on yet another college degree and study mental health counseling. I’ve got a knack for talking other people down from their ledges and – thank god – down from my own more often than not. But any good therapist is going to point you back to yourself. It’s like a nice way of rubbing a dog’s nose in its own pee on your new carpet. You did this – learn.

Learning not to repeat your mistakes is the first half of resolving your problems. Every time you say something hurtful and then feel regret about it, you’re just compounding that original fracture inside of you from the first time you did it or it happened to you, deepening it, and making it harder to fill. So step one is to stop. Stop dating the same kind of person. Stop relying on your grief to motivate you. Stop eating a twinkie at midnight. Stop. Full-stop, cold turkey, abrupt halt. If you can win this battle, you’ve won the war.

Step two is being completely honest with yourself about the things you’ve done or experienced that are the source of your fear and pain. This is why buying a new pair of shoes only has a temporary effect at alleviating our feelings – it’s not the real issue! The only way to alleviate our feelings is to alleviate them! Alleviate – defined as “to make suffering or a problem less severe” – by owning up to them. By sitting still in the middle of the storm and, instead of disassociating with a handbag or a hot dog, observing the feelings and following their paths of destruction back to the root of the problem.

Don’t be surprised, when you do get down to the root of your problems, to see yourself there, hammer in hand, hammering away at your own head.
Which brings me to step three: Forgive. Forgive whatever or whomever it was that caused your pain. Forgive yourself. Forgive the dead. Forgive that twinkie.

Pain lingers because we don’t forgive it. We cling to it and give it more meaning than it’s worth because that’s what we’re all taught to do but I beg to differ. Forgiveness is liberation. Forgiveness requires looking your problems square in the eye and saying “I forgive you” – and it will be at that moment that the solution presents itself. It could be as simple as a feeling of being set free, or maybe a determination to eat better, to treat your body and heart better. Maybe it’s a moment of insight and inspiration that was previously blocked by the shadows you were putting up between you and the source of the problem.

Purify your problems by learning not to repeat them, being honest about your complicity in perpetuating them, and forgiving all parties involved. Definitely support this process with yoga and spiritual awareness, treating your body like a temple, and surrounding yourself with people who uplift you – but rely on yourself most of all to own your problems and convert them into opportunities for growth.

I Love Paris, But…

I love Paris. If someone walked up to me today and said, here’s a job with an amazing salary in Paris, I would be on a plane faster than you can say crudité. In fact, I’m supposed to be there next week but haven’t decided if my recent accident and extended stay in LA is going to prevent me from going. There is that insurance deductible I’ll have to cover…

Notre Dame is a French national treasure. A world treasure? I don’t know. Something about Paris resonates so completely around the world that everyone is very quick to express support for tragedies that occur there. I remember being there not long after the latest terrorist shootings and the strange mix of unfamiliar tension and Parisian laissez-faire that drifted in the air like a French perfume that’s missed the mark. I even spent most of my academic years studying French and spent a year in college living in Normandy. I go to Paris once a year. I suppose you could call me a francophile, but I wouldn’t give myself that title. Honestly, I started taking French in middle school because I actually wanted to learn Italian and thought French would be the closest choice. Turns out Spanish is much, much closer… But I learned Italian anyway when I went to live and teach in Italy. 😉

All that aside, I think that, once again, our outrage, grief, and compassion are misplaced. First, when something tragic happens to someone or a group of people, we should avoid making it about ourselves. I, too, have got a photo of me in front of the cathedral and many other magical memories of Paris, but just because I’ve been there and not to the Louisiana hinterlands where three black churches were recently burned shouldn’t mean that I only express my solidarity when I conveniently have photographical proof of my relation to the event or its victims. I cultivated the same opinion about my late brother’s tragic death – it wasn’t about me.

Second, nobody was hurt and that church is equally a symbol of an organization with a turbulent history of so many -isms and -ilias that I’m not going to bother listing them.

And my final point – we can only assume that this was an accident, for now, though internet trolls are already blaming everyone from Trump and the Zionists to the ghost of Edith Piaf. Meanwhile, Palmyra was intentionally destroyed. Israelis and Palestinians continue their war. Right-wing nutjobs scheme fresh ways to marginalize and harm anyone who doesn’t look or think like them. Let’s all keep a fair perspective on what’s important in this world. Paris is burning, sure, [insert death-drop here queen yassss], but the seas are rising, people are drowning in debt, and it’s literally raining microplastics. Balancing emotion with logic is the human gift that people so often refuse to unwrap.

I’m all for beautiful architecture and the preservation of history, but history serves to teach us and inform what’s to eventually become history. Notre Dame is not another 9/11. If you’re going to stand up and speak up for a building, then stand up and speak out against the egregious and unnecessary cruelty, death, and tragedy that occurs in this world every single day. There is more to the world than the media reports.

You’re welcome to disagree or argue that I’m not being compassionate. In yoga, one of the greatest tools we learn is dispassion, which is maintaining a cool state of mind. It’s not the same dispassion of the parking ticket lady while you plead with her to not write you a citation. It’s just looking at all things fairly and staying strong in your own center without letting the chaos of the world move you from it. Ok, so maybe it is just like the parking ticket lady who’s going to be just fine after she sees through your bullshit sob story and gives you what you asked for.

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My Secret to a Healthy Body-Mind

About two months ago, I was twenty pounds heavier than I am now. It showed. I had fallen into the gym rat trap of building muscle mass by packing in calories and skipping on the cardio. I was beefy, for sure, yet because I’m mostly German, genetically (but Italian forever!), I looked several boxes of pastries away from Augustus Gloop status. In my head, anyway. My fat builds up on my ass (great!) and on my belly (not so great!). Because of that extra weight, my yoga practice was suffering. There was too much of me to move around on my mat. Even a brisk walk up Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles – which is really a walk in the park – got me winded.

I knew that intermittent fasting had worked for me in the past, so I’ve gone back to only eating between 12pm and 8pm. I don’t count calories and I don’t focus on protein intake. I just give my body sustenance within that timeframe. Sometimes I’m not even hungry despite not having eaten much so I’ll have something small to eat just because I don’t want it to become a complex.

I also decided that, out of respect for my body and out of respect for the yogic principle of non-violence, I was going to go vegan. I’d been vegan before, way back when I lived in Seattle because that’s just what you do there, so I knew what it would entail. Cooking at home, I didn’t usually prepare meat anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal to skip the rotisserie chicken at the grocery store.

I’ve also built cardio back into my workout regimen. Whether it’s running two miles on the treadmill, cycling, rowing, or a fun combination of all three (because yes, cardio IS boring – deal with it), I spend at least 20 to 30 minutes working up a huge sweat, which also powers me through the next hour of my resistance training. My body is warmed up and ready to go. I even started walking to the gym as a pre-warmup.

Two months in, I’ve got abs again. We all have abs, really, it’s just a matter of how much fat is hiding them. I also feel lithe and flexible again when I practice yoga. I can run at a fast pace on the treadmill and not be out of breath. And I feel good again about the way that I look – though I’m working on getting my ass back.

Here’s what’s worked for me. Each person’s experience is unique, so start slow and go safely through a process of trial and error until you can figure out what works best for you.

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1. INTERMITTENT FASTING

You can fast anywhere between 12 and 16 hours at a time, if you’re doing a daily fast. At 12 hours, the body has used up all your food intake for energy and switches to the glucose stored in your body. At about 14 hours, you start to metabolize fat for energy. At 16, the body will switch to denser material – lean muscle – so that’s when you want to start eating again. Drink A LOT of water, and don’t get upset if you cheat with a slice of pizza at 2am. The body is going to work with you and you’ll be shocked at how quickly it changes.

2. VEGAN FOOD

I love a PETA video. Did anyone else see Okja? Look – I’m not here to take away your rights to bacon. I’m just going to suggest that you wouldn’t be missing out on anything by skipping meat for your meals. Plants provide all of the nutrition you need and, because it’s the future, you can supplement anything else. What’s more, you can avoid participating in a filthy industry where living beings are bred and kept in cages just so you can have a burger. There’s a lot to say about the energetics of food, but I think you get the picture. You’re big boys and girls – make your own choices.

3. EXERCISE

This one is non-negotiable, unless your doctor says you can’t. Lifting weights is the best way to lose weight, when paired with a healthy diet. Cardiovascular activity is guaranteed to improve your well-being. I don’t need to cite scientific journals – You know. Turn your fucking TV off and take a walk.

4. MIND-BODY CONNECTION

A lot of us are just walking bobbleheads with more potential than we care to consider because who needs to participate creatively in society when the Kardashians do it for us. Seriously? You are a child of the universe, equipped with the divine powers of awareness and love. Take more than just a moment to focus on your breath and stretch your limbs. Make it an essential part of your lifestyle. Don’t be jealous of that bendy bitch across the room – BE THAT BENDY BITCH. You can do it. You just need to a) believe in yourself, and b) work for it. We’ve all got God within us, but releasing the full potential of that energy takes time and effort.

That all sounds easy enough, right? Great. Go for it. Me and millions of others have got your back. ✌️

WTF is “Being In Alignment”?

We talk a lot in yoga about “being in alignment”. You’ve heard it before. It’s tossed about casually while some Coachella-looking hipster waves a burning stick of wood at you, smiling like she knows something you don’t. It’s ok if you want to slap that smug look from her face, but take a deep breath. Phrases like that or “finding your center” tend to sound like woo-woo bullshit. Aligned to what? Center where? We end up thinking we have to be initiated into the divine secrets of some mystery cult and scour the recesses of Amazon for authentic sandalwood beads and little statues of Hindu deities.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good sandalwood bead mala as much as the next yogi, but terms like this need more explanation and we don’t need to study ancient Sanskrit to understand them.

In fact, being in alignment is similar to a car. Over time, we travel far, we come upon obstacles and bumps in the road, we make hard turns left and right, hit the brakes hard, and swerve to avoid things we didn’t see coming. Just like we take our car to Jiffy Lube for a tune-up, we take our bodies to the yoga mat to work out all the kinks, reset our spines, lubricate our joints, and stretch our muscles.

A car would never need an alignment if it stayed on a straight road its whole life. Likewise, our bodies would never need the kind of healing that yoga movement provides if we weren’t being normal, active human beings. Since this isn’t possible, things like yoga exist to help us feel good in our bodies.

However, we’re doing much more than just physical work. When we talk about being in alignment, we’re also and more so talking energetically. I’m going to do my best to make this sound as little woo-woo as possible.

Being in alignment means acting from a place of pure love within you. This is the love that shines unceasingly from your heart. It’s the love that transcends special relationships. It is undying and the home of our truest, highest selves.

We get out of alignment when we start to source the power of love from anywhere other than that place within us. A car gets its power from its own gas tank. When we take love from someone or demand it with guilt and fear, we are way off base. It’s like we become spiritual Nosferatus, drinking life from sources that don’t belong to us. So what, then is the fuel?

Your source of life and power is the same as everyone else’s, so there’s no need to take it from anyone. It exists within you already. Alignment means extending love freely from your own limitless reserve and not placing it in a box – or another person or object – and labeling it with our limitations or judgments.

This point of perfect alignment is also what we mean when we say “center” – At your center, your heart, that energetic point within you that is undeniably fierce and strong, there is your power and your joy.

Look, I’m just as punch drunk stupid on love as the next human. I have my own layers of abandonment and perception of self-worth that I struggle with, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. It’s usually in romantic relationships where our sense of alignment is tested most harshly, but that’s just another big pothole or detour on the road of life amongst many others.

Whatever happens to you, it is your sacred mission in life to stay aligned to your highest self and steady at your center. There’s a force within you and all of us that’s got your back. This doesn’t mean don’t get involved romantically or shut the door and draw the shades on life’s many experiences and opportunities. It’s like building muscle memory: The more you test yourself and return to your sense of alignment, to the God at your center, the more resilient you’ll be in the face of the chaos of the world.

Let the power of love within you be the hands on the wheel. Don’t let the ego do what it loves to do – careen about wildly, smash mailboxes, toss trash out the window, and honk for attention. No – let love guide your way on the road of life. If you take a detour, you’ll come back to the way that is meant for you. If you have a passenger and they have to get off at the next exit, bless them on their journey. That’s it. That’s all you can do.

Jack Kerouac said it best in Desolation Angels… though most people snip off the first part of the quote, which in my opinion is the most important:

So shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.

Here’s a stupid selfie of me looking exactly like that bead-wearing, self-knowledge smug, hipster yogi. Oh well – Embrace it!

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