What Are You Saying Yes To?

“What are you saying yes to?”

That’s the question that my exquisite, brilliant teacher Melanie Salvatore-August opened our teacher training class with today. I love this woman so deeply that it brings tears to my eyes. I’m a very “touchy feely” person and am known to passionately fall in love with people. Many people; friends, teachers, students, those I’ve never even met in the flesh…but I particularly feel a deep connection with Mel. We are cut of the same cloth.

So, when she posed this supple question to us today, would you believe me if I said my eyes welled up immediately? Along with being touchy feely I’m also a cryer (imagine that). Long before the energizing, emotion-invoking back bending practice I was already misty eyed, tears actually falling. Mel had us go around the room and gaze into one another’s eyes and share what it is we are saying yes to.

I am saying yes to self-acceptance, that was mine. But I was bobbing in a sea of yes’, to be honest. Many of my other yes’ were echoed back to me by my peers, my fellow yogis. I am saying yes to my deepest truth…facing my fears…serving others…vulnerability…new experiences…compassion…love…following my dreams.

It was beautiful. The words seemed denser, more real, when paired with the authentic eye contact of my incredible fellow beings. There was a lot of eye contact today and, despite my recent piece, I found the exercises in holding a steady gaze without smiling or expressing anything but study to be difficult. Just peering deep into another person’s eyes without a trace of anything but recognition, of taking them in…all of them, accepting and embracing that we are we are one…is intense. In the most uplifting and liberating sense.

My teacher said many things today else that stuck with me, one of which resonated so profoundly that I typed it into my iPhone as a reminder, at the top of my “Quotes to Live By” list in my notepad app (fondly referred to by me as my “can’t live without this app…” my post-it addiction goes electronic). What she said was, “your physical body is a manifestation of your mind.” She then said that our future bodies are a manifestation of the thoughts we have, the mind space we’re creating on this yogic journey, essentially. We have the power to make this vessel in which we travel through life one of harmonious self-love and appreciation. We have that power.

Immediately I felt a surge of panic. That means that I’m going to just run my body into the ground, broken and overused, because my mind is a place of compulsion and obsession and anxiety and order. That’s what ran through my head. How is that for a manifestation? If I think it, I will manifest it. I fumbled with the grief that arose, the fear that swelled in my throat, as though my future body were doomed because of an anxious mind. As though my ship were heading into the eye of the storm while I sat bound and gagged on the deck with nothing to do but watch in horror.

Not so.

It took about ten minutes and going upside down for my perspective to shift. And boy did it shift…I had one of those shifts, so vast and cavernous, like the tremor of a fault line. Giving way to two plates, two bodies, the old me and the new me. The old mind and the new mind. The old perspective and this new, glistening, brimming-with-hope perspective. They are touching, they form this line, this union. Stepping from one side to the other, without judgement, just a feeling of “aha,” of stepping out of the dark and into the light. No longer bound and gagged.

In that moment, upside down in Adho Mukha Svanasana, I saw my mind in a different light. My future body will be holistically well, joyous, healthy, abundant, fertile, strong and able because that is the vast majority of my mind…while my mind is anxious and obsessive at times, the vast majority of it is a sacred space of awareness, introspection, healing, helping, self-study, warmth and compassion. 

I am saying yes to ahimsa, non-harming. In thoughts and in actions towards myself. I suddenly see myself clearly.

Why do we shackle and chain ourselves to negative views of ourselves, negative filters, old identities? Why do we identify with the little flaw of our minds rather than the overwhelming bulk of it that is so very beneficial, hopeful, buoyant? I am saying yes to seeing myself through the beneficial, kind, loving, buoyant filter. I am saying yes to seeing myself clearly.

Are you ready for this…?

You are perfect. You are the perfect you. Just as you are. You don’t need to change ANYTHING.

Isn’t that wildly refreshing?

You are complete and perfect exactly as you are, and that is the truth. Seeing that requires nothing but a shift in perspective. Not a ridding of the flaws, no, leave them on the other side of the fault line. They’re there…they’re part of this union, this unification of Selves. They’re not going anywhere. Let them serve as fodder for the growth that is occurring on the other side…let the darkness be but a sliver to accent the beaming light that is you.

You are beaming light. You are made of stars and earth and you are love. Light. You are steering your own ship. You are guiding this vessel. You get to choose.

So, my friends, I leave you tonight with this shining question –

What are you saying yes to?

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Starving For Eye Contact

Some days, when I’m feeling drained, I find myself withholding eye contact.

It’s unconscious, I don’t really mean to. It’s almost like I’m a little tortoise, hiding in my shell the entire day. There is such latent energy in wordless communication, eye contact being the most potent. I love making eye contact, it’s such a powerful means of conveyance. It can say so much. It makes people feel important. It makes me feel connected. It’s like a bridge between two separate entities, myself and another person, that can make us feel as one for even just a brief moment.

Eye contact can be a wonderful gift to give and be given. It can be vulnerable, intense, intimate, healing…such potential! It can also be uncomfortable, empty, lingering, intolerable. So much depth and possibility are present in this simple act.

I feel the eye contact I offer is usually pretty meaningful, which I suppose is why I sometimes find myself holding it back. It’s energy, Shakti, that we share (transmit, if you will) when we give eye contact. A true opportunity to give and receive vitality, oftentimes with a perfect stranger. They say eyes are the “windows to the soul,” after all, so isn’t it only natural to sometimes feel the need to conceal one’s eye contact?

Withholding eye contact can be an act of self-preservation.

Some days we just leave the house with only enough Shakti to get us through the day, no extra to doll out. It’s a bummer, but those days happen. Those are the days when my eyes cling to anything but another person’s. I might feel less vulnerable after a day spent in my tortoise shell, but I certainly feel an air of loneliness too.

If you’ve ever experienced that intense locking of eyes with another human being, then you know just how intoxicating eye contact can be. I’ve encountered people in my line of work who seem dejected, on autopilot, eyes downcast. When I ask them how they are, they mumble an answer, eyes still down. When they look up and notice I’m directing meaningful eye contact at them, they’re visibly startled; the expression on their face morphing from inattention to surprise to ease in a matter of breaths. I’ve seen that person, time and time again. I’ve been that person, too. So jolted by a fellow person’s penetrating gaze, their look of authenticity, piercingly genuine.

We are starving for eye contact.

 

We are, in other terms, starving for profound, raw, real exposure to humanity. It’s not often that one stops a stranger on the street to tell them they have a great haircut, stunning eyes, a smart ensemble, are carrying a brilliant novel…it’s infrequent that one even voices intimate thoughts to a stranger. It could be misconstrued, unwelcome, awkward; so many possible outcomes. We like to over think things. It could be so many awkward, weird ways if I put myself out on a limb and connect with this person, so I just won’t. We just ride the train or the bus or walk past the person who we find interesting, kind-faced, deeply human or quirky. We don’t feed our desire for contact. But, if we’re starved for meaningful, consistent human connection, then why do we sometimes hide our heads deep down our shells? Why would we shy away from making conversation with a stranger? Why would we withhold eye contact?

Because it’s out of our comfort zone. It’s just easier not to connect, sometimes, right?

I love making eye contact, having conversations with perfect strangers so profound in their brevity; extending meaningful compliments to people I’ll likely never see again. I have days where these experiences infuse my awareness and fill me with love and compassion for mankind. But other days I just feel too secure in my tortoise shell, too comfortably sheltered inside my comfort zone, to step out and break that ice.

I think it’s time we melt that ice. Speak the words. Make the eye contact. Pop our heads out from inside our tortoise shells. Dare to dance outside of our comfort zones.

What would a day filled with eye contact be like? Just as receiving a certain allotment of hugs per day has a proven positive effect on the human body, so does the receipt of pure, undiluted, honest eye contact I believe. Seriously, imagine going through a day where you walked around, eyes up, gaze ahead, an open channel of contact.

Just think of how much positive energy you could accumulate! Contemplate how many people you might warm with your unabashed, human sincerity. Just imagine how many people might move you, how your inner tortoise shell might be infused with light by simply making eye contact.

It’s unpredictable, a bit insecure, to walk around all day gazing into the eyes of strangers; an act both fearless and gentle. It’s an act I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t we regret. One we might even grow to love. Possibly even make into a habit.

Some days, when I’m feeling drained, I challenge myself to make meaningful eye contact, everywhere I go. Because I will not live my life as a tortoise in a shell.

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As seen on elephant journal

Photo Credit: elephantjournal.com

Gratitude is Contagious

[As seen on elephant journal]

The other day I heard a story about a man who lost his arm. This isn’t just any man; this is a man who I knew as “a regular” at my place of work. I saw him last week and noticed the stump of a limb that hung from his body, marred and rounded off at what would have been the elbow. He greeted me with a joyful smile, a wave of his good arm, and came through my line. He spoke to me familiarly, and I could have sworn I recognized him, but I couldn’t place a man with one arm in my memory. I would have certainly remembered this friendly sweet soul who is missing an arm; unmistakable. I forgot about the encounter until a few days later.

 

He came striding up to me and said, “Hey girlfriend how’s your day??” He was joyful, beaming, totally upbeat. This solidified that I must know him, I just recognize him, and my eyes darted unconsciously to his arm again. Why don’t I remember you missing an arm? It never occurred to me that something so life changing had happened to him since I’d known him. He couldn’t possibly be so incredibly happy if something like that had happened recently.

 

“How are you?” I asked him, reciprocating the upbeat banter. As if reading my mind he replied,

“Oh just recovering from my little boo-boo here.” I looked up to see him gesturing with his marred stump of an elbow. I met his eyes and let the confusion knit itself across my expression,

“What happened?”

He proceeded to tell me the story. Despite thirty years in the same job, constantly telling others not to wear loose clothing or gloves near moving machinery, he got too close to a gear lift in a pair of work gloves. He said he just went down to spray some DW-40 for a moment and in less than ten seconds his arm was gone. The only reason his upper arm was saved was because the motor automatically shut off after devouring him up to the elbow.

 

My jaw was dropped open in utter disbelief, shock radiating from the pupils of my eyes. He told the story so matter of fact.

“I’m getting better at using my left hand,” he said, and it was then that I realized he’d lost his right arm…even more of a challenge to overcome. A coworker of mine asked when it happened. February. Not even a month and a half had gone by since this happened. And here I had been wondering if this occurred in the two years I’ve been in my job! Four weeks. That’s it. This man’s life completely changed in four little weeks.

 

“I’m so sorry that happened to you…that is unbelievable…” was all I could manage.

“I’m just happy to be alive!” was his reply.

 

I’m just happy to be alive.

 

If only we could all think that way on a daily basis, without having to lose our dominant arm or have a near death experience to remind us of what a gift it is to just be breathing! To have two legs, to have two arms, to have sight, to have a heart beating in our chests…a gift!

 

My instinct is to feel it’s inherently cruel to feel grateful and learn such a lesson through someone else’s intimate, life-changing misfortune. But the reality is that it’s human to do so. That man learned the same lesson, and his positive reaction has ripple effects. They are rippling through me, and everyone whose path he crosses. When we hear of awful things happening to our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, we are affected. We feel the sorrow, the shock, the hurt, and the resulting gratitude at the gift of survival…the gift of life.

 

What is it to be human together in this ever-changing, uncontrollable world if we cannot learn from one another? If we cannot instill in one another deep set gratitude, appreciation, compassion, empathy?

I am grateful for that man, my friend, who lost his arm and still carries himself so gallantly though life. I am grateful for the effect he’s had on me. I am grateful for the reminder to not take something so precious as a hand, an arm, a body, a life for granted.

 

Let us be aware today, happy to be alive today, grateful today. Gratitude is contagious. So be grateful – because, really, there isn’t a moment to waste.

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Image courtesy of elephantjournal.com 

Article first published here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/04/gratitude-is-contagious-sara-courter/

Holistic Wellness

Holistic Wellness. What does that mean, exactly? It means something different to us all, I’m sure. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…I believe thoroughly that if the average person had more access to massage, yoga and therapy, the need for many medications would be nullified. Throw in meditation teachings, integrative nutrition counseling, acupuncture (which I’ve actually not yet experienced but already believe profoundly in the healing power of) and homeopathy in general, and you’ve got the recipe for many a disease cure. At least that’s what I think.

So, what do we do about it? It’s  pricey to belong to a (good) yoga studio, therapy is astronomical unless covered by insurance (a whole separate issue) and massage is exorbitant and seen as lavish. Yes, it’s reasonable to make space for at least some of these practices/treatments in one’s budget, but it’s difficult for the average person. Especially if that average person is raising children. 

Today I joined the “Wellness Program” at my local massage parlor. It’s the same parlor to which my mom belongs, in our home town. She raves about it. I’ve used her massages before, but never found it reasonably within my own means to belong as a member. I get a free yoga studio membership as a teacher in training, but that will end in June. At which point I will likely feel compelled to tack that membership onto my monthly budget. Sigh, I already feel the belt tightening…

I know the massage membership is more than worth it. Bodywork is something so profoundly healing and so totally out of most people’s financial grasp. Every time I’ve ever left a massage the masseuse recommends I come in every two weeks for bodywork. I believe them, while everyone wants to “sell” their services, I genuinely believe that I need this bodywork done. I believe we all do. I believe that we medicate innumerable ailments that could so simply be treated, and sometimes cured, by massage. 

I feel similarly about yoga. Disorders of every sort, be it eating, sleeping, anxiety, anger or self-esteem, can be tended to or resolved. There’s the physical aspect of the practice, heightening one’s fitness, stimulating weight loss that in turn improves one’s health, the capacity to lower blood pressure, it goes on and on. There’s then the mental and spiritual aspects of the practice, that are overwhelming in their magnitude. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, investing in yoga is more than worth it. Plus, after some time studying with a skilled teacher, one may begin a home practice. A home practice not only saves money, but provides immense and powerful growth as a practitioner and human being.

As for therapy, I’m a huge advocate. I firmly believe that therapy would benefit every person, regardless of their lifestyle, perceived problems or past. It’s so cathartic to vent, and it’s beneficial for oneself and one’s personal relationships to unload on someone who’s paid to listen! Rather than constantly venting to one’s spouse, family member or best friend, which can overwhelm the listener and sometimes breed resentment, there’s a paid professional (and I emphasize professional!) in the picture to lend a confidential ear. So much self-study can occur within the intimate relationship of therapist and patient. I fear many people get stuck on the term “patient” and even the term “psychology.” As though one is “psycho” or “messed up” for see a therapist. So not the case, my loves!

I believe I have a healthier psyche for having fallen head over heels with my beloved therapist, Claudia Viazolli. She’s a gem of a human being and I wish I still saw her. I moved away, for one, and I also recovered from my eating disorder. She’s a genius specializing in treating, healing and saving those with disordered eating. She takes on extreme cases. Once I was recovered, I kept seeing her. She helped me navigate the ensuing years, an ocean of ups and downs, swinging from restrictive to out of control. I finally settled somewhere in the middle, well on the safe side of recovery. I continued to see her. We had phone appointments, My little heart sang out at the sound of Claudia’s voice. But it could really only continue for so long. I was recovered, I was well, and there were so many people out there who needed her desperately. She had a powerful hand in the saving of my life, and now, she had other lives to save. 

It was a little heart wrenching to have to part ways. We still email now and again, we’ll always be in touch; she’s very supportive of my writing. I have looked into therapy here in my new area, through my insurance, but haven’t taken the plunge. Which leads me to my next point…

We are crazy busy, in today’s society. Chronically rushing. We don’t have much time. We rush from work, maybe to yoga if we’re lucky, back home for dinner with our loved ones, into bed to sleep and then do some version of it all over again…every couple of weeks we sneak into a massage on our day off, again if we’re lucky, and on top of that are social commitments, time spent just unwinding at home, taking care of one’s home, outside responsibilities…time is limited because most of us work 40 hours/week! Without so much work we’d have more time, but little financial ability to partake in the aforementioned holistic wellness practices. That being said, how do we fit it all in?

It’s up to you. We all have priorities. I have a beautiful home practice that, once my initial yoga teacher training finishes, may be my sole practice until my next training (and therefore next opportunity for tuition-covered membership) begins in October. I am elated to have joined the massage wellness program and intend to indulge in at least one, if not two, massages per month. I may even swap it out for a facial now and then (yes they have facials too!!!). As for therapy, I would be dishonest if I claimed that I have not been “able” to find time. I could make time. I could. There’s space, here and there, I’m sure. But trying to see a therapist through my medical insurance has led to inquiries as to what my “issue” is. Well, I’m a recovered anorexic…boom, they sent me to the eating disorder specialist. No…I’ve been recovered for nearly seven years. That’s just the only medical “issue” I could offer! So I was pigeonholed to one particular department. I suppose I could have said anxiety or stress, but the honest truth was I simply wanted the support and catharsis of psychology in my life. 

Ideally, one day I will have the financial capability to see a kind, warm psychologist every so often as a source of outside support for my busy life. I wish this for all of us. More often than not we don’t even need “help,” we just need someone to listen! Someone to nod and smile and tell us it’s all normal, to help us uncover psychological habits that we wouldn’t see with our own naked eye. I believe therapy is super healing and soothing, even if you’re just the average person stressing about traffic and what to cook for dinner!

So, what can you do for your own holistic wellness? Are you telling yourself you “don’t have time” or “can’t afford” the activities your body and mind are truly craving? The things they really need? Think about it. Let this be food for thought. Your holistic wellness practices might be totally different than mine, and that’s fine, it’s normal. But tune in, listen closely when you have the “man I wish I could ____,” thoughts. The “I wish I had time for ____,” thoughts.

Make time for it. Make it part of your budget. Make your holistic wellness one of your top priorities. No one else is going to do it for you. 

Wishing you an abundance of wellness, my loves, x

 

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Image courtesy of MindBodyGreen.com

Thanks for the Material

I recently had two articles published on MindBodyGreen, both of which I shared here on my blog. The latter was incredibly difficult for me to write. But I am inspired by writers I admire, to delve deep and dig into the yucky stuff. I’m comfortable now writing about my battle with anorexia as a teenager. That’s safe territory for me now. But addressing the present insecurities that plague me, in our body-obsessed society? Opening up about the grossly unconfident tides in which I sometimes (all too often) find myself bobbing? Being honest about the real, true thoughts that pass through my ever-chattering mind? That’s hard stuff. It’s difficult. But it feels so damn good to do it.

So, when my latest piece received four comments, I heartily chewed on them. I’d like to say I chewed on them equally, but that would be dishonest. Four comments: two positive, two negative.  Can you guess which I chewed and chewed on until they were liquid matter, sustenance nowhere to be found, just guck doing me no good?

Yep, you guessed it, the negatives.

This morning my friend Jen sent me a vlog of hers; it was one I tried to watch about fourteen times earlier in the week, and my internet was just not cooperating. I was so frustrated not being able to watch it, the shoddy connection causing the video to freeze about eight seconds in, and refuse to load any further. Frustrated after two days of trying, I gave up. Last night my roommate showed me I’d been fussing with an inactive dial-up connection that sat right beside the actual wireless router. That’s a whole different conversation on my disconnect with advancing technology, so I digress…

I got to watch Jen’s video in full this morning, is the point. I shared it just below this post. It talks about “The One.” Not the romantic, soul mate “one” we so often discuss. The more present, everyday “one” that we all encounter on a daily basis, probably. The one person who doesn’t like you in a room full of people that do. Do we honestly focus on the room full that loves us back, or the one person that doesn’t?

I focus on the one that doesn’t. I focus on the two negative comments. I reply to the positive ones, yes, but the negative ones leech the beauty from the two positive comments. They sit in my belly, stewing, marinating in angst. They plague my mind the next time I sit down to write. I click on the names of the commenters, peer at their pictures.

“How could you be so insensitive? So cruel with your words? Did you mean to be cruel? Why don’t you like my article? Why why why??” 

The smiling picture of the stranger who so emphatically criticized my honest, deepest truths from behind their computer screens in their respective cities just gaze back at me, unfeeling.

The one person, in the room full of people, who doesn’t like me. 

Why does it matter what they think, you ask? The answer is it doesn’t. Not at all. But it triggers my emotions. We’re human; it’s difficult not to react when we find out someone doesn’t like us (or heck, if we suspect someone doesn’t like us), if someone makes a negative comment, looks at us the wrong way, says something to someone else about us…I find myself sometimes holding onto those negative episodes, pining for an explanation, longer than I do the wonderfully positive encounters.

Why is that, I wonder? If it doesn’t matter, then why do I care? Why can’t I brazenly say, “I don’t care,” like a 10-year old girl, boldly and beautifully confident in her innocence? I want to say, “I don’t care,” and mean it.

I suppose the purpose is this…all of this. This post. This conversation. This growth that is occurring. The substance that has bettered me, fortified my confidence, created this very essay you’re reading right now. People are always going to criticize, and it’s not always going to be constructive. There are always going to be people who don’t like us. There just are. It just is the way it is. It should be that way. We learn and grow from experiencing those who don’t like us; we learn and grow from the realization that we care (sometimes deeply) about the people who don’t like us, about trying to make them like us. In that self-study and observation there is growth, immense discovery.

So, if I could say something to the haters it would be that I’m grateful for the self-discoveries, I appreciate the ensuing growth…and thanks for the material.

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The One. Part One: Video.

Have you watched this??? I tried to last week and my internet was being incredibly shoddy. Finally got it up and running last night and, as the Universe would have it, Jen sent the video directly to me this morning. 

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Please give this a watch and share it, far and wide. This “WHO CARES!” message needs to be heard, FELT and passed on. Who Cares! Think authentic thoughts, be HUMAN and care less about the one who doesn’t like, “get” or appreciate you.

Thank you Jennifer Pastiloff. I like, “get” AND appreciate you.

 

The One. Part One: Video..