Whatchya Readin’?

img_8603It’s autumn, feels like winter somedays. The election has us harried, disconnected, eager for solitude and safety, unsure we’ll get it, fearful some will be left behind either way.

In the summer, many libraries have read-a-thons for kids. Beaches and airplanes host millions nose-in easy reads. I wasn’t able to stick to just one novel at a time this go ’round, too much chaos, not only in the country, but in my heart, my head, the space around me. This is a season of change, a season of plenty in my life, and my nightstand chock full of teachers’ and inspirers’ words, as well as my own sleepily written in a journal atop them, reflects that.

As a toddler, my father reports that I preferred to sleep with books than stuffed animals. I will note that I, too, loved the fluffy cuddly inanimate creatures and still have my beloved Blueberry Bear stashed away for safe keeping. My living stuffed animal, my dog Porter, is ne’er far from my side when I read from the current stack at my bedside.

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I collect them. I could spend a full day in a library or bookstore reading backs and inside covers, absorbed in awe of all the stories and knowledge out there. Books for me, words for me, are like friendships, are like people. I love nothing more than growing deep in knowledge of another being, listening, feeling, smiling, taking in what they offer, giving what they’ll receive. My brother once pointed out, as he hugged in shoulders, not surprised when I told him excitedly of a new friend I’d made on a plane ride, that everyone I meet becomes a friend. I’m not so sure that’s entirely accurate, though I do greatly value my connections with people, with story, with the life we share when we connect. They have benefitted me more than any amount of money or knowledge. And yet, I yearn for quiet– to hear a one-sided tale now and again.

Finding my way into quiet, with or without the company of a good book, has been the most healing journey of my life thus far. Much like Shauna Niequist describes hers,

“My life is marked now by quiet, connection, simplicity…I fail and try again more often than I’d prefer. but there is a peace that defines my days, a settledness, a roundedness. I’ve been searching for this in a million places, all outside myself, and it astounds me to realize that the roundedness is within me, and that maybe it was there all along.” (Present Over Perfect, p. 27)

That  said, what I glean from a good read, is similar to a good friendship:

  • A reflection of truth, often the authors, but one in which I see my own humanity reflected, and therefore have compassion for the story teller
  • A meaningful challenge, a reflection of the writer that sparks me to see a different perspective, or yearn to
  • An affirmation of goodness, the value of life, the connection we have to all of life, and the inspiration to care
  • An inspiration to write, to record, to document, to process, to play creatively with words, oh I do love words.

As a kid, I chose I know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Number the Stars over Baby Sitters Club and the Boxcar Children, which I carried home from book exchanges and left untouched until the next swap.

It wasn’t until after my college years of studying social movements, inequality, and the unjust education and criminal justice systems, plunging my nose into beloved tellings, like I’ve Got The Light of Freedom, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and The Skin That We Speak, that I got the novel fix. I plowed through historical fiction, All the Light We Cannot See, and the trendy dystopia, The Hunger Games. I found my way, eventually, back to true stories, real lives, steeped in hopeful, heart-breaking, spiritual and transformational goodness.

Some FavoritesAnimal Vegetable Miracle,  No Baggage, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life.img_7495

This season of change, I keep clearing my nightstand with a weekly room sweep, but the stack grows within the week to these below that I seem to need to keep open all at once:

You Are A Bad Ass

True Refuge

Body Thrive

Present Over Perfect

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Shadow Yoga, Chaya Yogaimg_7434

Cat’s Eye

The All True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton

The last two, novels, beckon me like a dream, but it’s only a few reads before I yearn again for reality, grit, tangible tangy truth that reminds that I, too, am real.

So, what are you reading?

It’s time again to reconnect with what inspires you;)

THRIVE this summer….for FREE!

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Get Your Thrive On!

Join a FREE weekly book club to discuss the habits of healthy, vibrant and thriving lives based in the wisdom of Yoga & Ayurveda and outlined in Cate’s Stillman’s book, Body Thrive.

Sign Up with a Friend ~ Get A FREE Coaching Call!
Sign up for up to 3, 30 minute coaching calls throughout book club. Sessions are $40 each, or 3 for $99…..BUT, if you sign up with a friend & you are both committed to for the summer, you both get your first call FREE! (and the second two for $75). That’s a pretty good deal!

This virtual discussion group begins Monday, June 13 and ending Monday, August 22 from 6-7pm EST (4-5pm MT).

Signing up solo?! 
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And, EVERYONE who joins the book club this summer is eligible for 20% my 10 week Fall course that will take you deeper into the Body Thrive Habits, including live group Q & A calls, video lectures, personalized homework to transform into your favorite version of yourself:) More details later. Sign up for the summer for this sweet deal in the fall!
A minimum of 5 participants is essential for an engaging bookclub discussion. If you have to miss a week, you will receive a recording of the call in your inbox.

Let It Rain Gratitude

Photo on 11-23-15 at 6.14 PM

Sigh… A lot of that happens for me…sighing, that is, when the overwhelm hits. This year there is so much change in my life,  with no shortage of the element of surprise, that I am grateful for reminders like the one I read on my Chill app. on my phone today:

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain.” 

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Even for the more regimented, stable and orderly of us, spending extended time with extended family and/or dear friends can throw us (our expectations, rather) for a curve ball. Remember that distracted shoppers, burnt turkeys, sloppy weather, slow traffic, disappointed children, or parents, are not the cause of us going haywire, but really these external influences only change other things external to us. It is us, yes, that means you and me, who are responsible for our own, eh hem, dare I say it…..attitudes of gratitude.

It’s the time of year when what we intend to do and what we see our culture promoting may come into great conflict. We might see our family members running around like chickens with heads cut off to look for the perfect farm-raised turkey, and purchase the perfect vegetables at the best prices from 3 separate grocery stores down to the last minute, stay up late, wake up early, snap at loved ones, set a perfect table……and plunk down to force a smile and ask everyone to share what they are grateful for before taking a bite. I hope this reads like an exaggeration, though I know it may only be the tip of your iceberg.

It can be challenging to be grateful. If you’re used to your CSA and your in-laws serve green beans from a can, or if you’re used to football, and your friends don’t have a TV, or if you always text your very best friend at 5:00 somewhere for your first holiday drink and your homie took you to the middle of nowhere to celebrate a romantic holiday alone and there is no cell service,  grateful can feel a million miles away. But tension,  frustration, and disappointment can feel very close. And these are not emotions that help us to digest anything (food, experiences, anything that comes in through our sense organs) well.

So, let it rain. First, let it rain. Then, if you can muster it, close you eyes. Breathe deeply, let out a sigh or a yelp, or a favorite bird call, or one you made up. Then note one thing, as small as you can imagine even, for which you are truly grateful. To be grateful for something, doesn’t require it to give you eternal bliss, or unending happiness. Notice something in which you see value, in which you can rest, even if only momentarily. Start perhaps with seeing something that benefits you, for which you did not have to strive. Hmmm. It may just be that sigh, or noticing your breath is now slower, that sighing made you laugh, or that, despite the snow and clouds and ice, you have heat!

Let it rain, dear friend.

And after it is all said and done and your full enough to burst, or grateful you minded your body’s nudge to take it easy, after it all, rest.

And the next morning, log onto mindbodyonline.com and from the cozy of your couch, pjs, digestive tea, and heated home…

Order almost any Yoga or Ayurveda service for 20% Off!*

Do this for your self of someone in whom you have a new spark of gratitude.

Sale is Friday, November 27  through Sunday, November 29. If you have any trouble with your order, please shoot me an email. If I don’t see it until after the sale closes I will honor the time of your note and your discount.

May you laugh, and get wet in the rain of new found gratitude.

Namaste.

Andrea
*20% does not apply to privately scheduled Office Yoga classes or Ayurveda Workshops, but there is a great workshop coming up!!….

The Lotus is Coming Out of the Muck

When things are shit. I mean when you literal feel stuck in the most bug-ridden, stickiest mess of your life, the things that steadied you may no longer carry the same potency– you are, afterall, stuck in a grotesque position–the problem is that ripping yourself free might mean that you lose a favorite boot or sandal and have to walk barefoot through the muck for a while. It may mean that you have to admit you played some part in getting yourself in this pile in the first place. It may mean that it gets worse before it gets better, because let’s admit, standing stuck in mud sucks, every step is laborious, but pulling your foot out of the boot to scamper stickily away will feel pretty nasty for a time, too. Sure, you’ll be free of your immoveable position, but you may end up knee deep in stink before you make it to the shower or at least to dry land. All that to say, that the way we define success in these seeming life-sucking situations must change, or else we also succumb to judging ourselves for not smelling like roses when we’re covered in shit, it’s just not realistic.

I am reminded of the end of a long, hot day of backpacking in the Porcupine mountains—heels blistered, the water ran out, stomach grumbling and menstrual cramps setting in—attempting to pump water through the filter only clogged it in the muck of a leech, deer fly, and mosquito ridden pond. That night it rained, and donning packs to hike the next day was delayed by airing camping gear dry on a rope between trees. Ironically, this memory recollection more often brings laughs and joy than the distress that may have been felt in the moment.

Of late, my day to day, breath to breath has felt much like that evening. I have gone from being a planner, thinking months ahead, plotting dreams and plans for work and pleasure, to only being able to bat away the bugs of the present moment—coaxing myself to get out of bed, to eat, to move, to sit quietly and breathe and not jump all over myself if the tears flow anyway. I am learning to redefine success, and at times to let the bugs buzz without batting them. Recent successes have been:

  • Allowing myself to sleep as much as needed
  • Jogging 5 minutes without stopping or having pain in knee or hip
  • Reading scripture and sitting in the belief that all will be made beautiful, in fact, the beauty is all around me even now
  • Moving my body through 30 minutes of Yoga asana
  • Sitting in 25 minutes of nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and coming back to my breath, even after the sobbing co-opted a few minutes of my focus
  • Taking myself on a date to a favorite bar, alone!
  • Appreciating my physical appearance and self-care practices
  • Leaving my phone at home when on a walk in nature or turning it to silent for an hour at a time
  • Reflecting on my needs, intentions and expectations before making even the smallest decisions: what to eat, whether or not to get out of bed, how to spend time while sitting in the unsettling looming of the unknown
  • Smiling without expecting a smile in return
  • Eating something good for me, slowly, without also reading, texting, or otherwise distracting myself (other than my raging thoughts)
  • Preparing food for ailing loved ones, sitting quietly beside and respecting a gentle “no, thank you” when help is offered
  • Swinging my leg over my darling bicycle and peddling into town to write this, albeit 2 hours later than previously intended—no judgment, Andi, you’re here now

In times like these it is crucial to come back to my intention of self-acceptance, believing I am beautiful, whether or not those I wish would tell me so are able to say it—I have found that telling myself this is more powerful, anyway!— to come back to my breath, to notice that an inhale and an exhale are gifts in themselves, not to be taken for granted, they are the essence of human life. In months like this one, when time passes too slowly and it is only the reminders I choose to repeat in mind, like I am able to cope with this moment (thanks to a dear friend for this mantra), or I want this or that, but I don’t need it. I am content, I can accept reality, I can accept not knowing (but of course, I wish I knew—again, no judgment). In times like these, success becomes as simple as keeping my commitments, as staying present, keeping the awareness that I am worth life, that there are still those who benefit from my presence, including me. And the biggest successes come when I can own that my emotions are responses to what is actually happening, but not what is actually happening itself. Then I can let lips part and teeth come together, cheeks lift and beam like I mean it, until I do.

Rather than lofty goals, my success is being redefined by self-imposed limitations that involve avoiding putting myself in a situation that could give me enough information to bring up, again and again, pain from which I have been healing. (I am not always good at this. Turns out delaying knowing a painful truth is just as challenging as delaying gratification. Why do I crave knowing even the ugly things?) It also involves making some changes for myself. In times like this, it can feel as if I have no control over my own life, so I take some: I start running again, I let myself sleep in if I need to, I sit quietly and cry and pray and scream instead of calling someone else every time I panic, I cut off all my hair, and then do it again, and enjoy the unending compliments, and more so my joy and freedom in the burden feeling lighter and lifted from my shoulders.

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To sum it up, Pema Chodron in her beloved book, Comfortable With Uncertainty (pp. 79-82) does it so well:

“We practice catching our mind hardening into fixed views and do our best to soften. Through softening, the barriers come down.

There’s no problem with being where you are right now…We can be where we are and at the same time leave wide open the possibility of being able to expand far beyond where we are now in the course of our lifetime…As we continue to relax where we are, our opening expands. When we say, ‘May I have happiness,’ or ‘May I be free of suffering,’ or ‘May any individual have happiness or be free of suffering,’ we are saying that it is the potential of a human being to expand our capacity for opening and caring limitlessly…the full human capacity for connecting with love and compassion, which is limitless, free-flowing warmth…This is our human potential: to connect with the true state of affairs. It begins with where we are.”

This refocusing on equanimity, on contentment, on undisturbed stability is the core of my new perspective of success. While nothing actually feels stable around me, I settle myself in the knowing that life continues to gust, blaze, bloom, wave, grow, die, and change; I imagine being like the rock at the shore allowing the waves to polish my sharp edges or like the iris outside my work building, bending and swaying with the Spring breeze, while staying rooted deeply in the soil that allowed it to bloom. Never has life been about achieving happiness. Ooh, did I burst your pretty little dream-like bubble? Happiness is fleeting. “It’s joy that is peace in action, and peace that is joy at rest,” says the beloved Anne Lamott, in her recent book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. These words, joy and peace, sustain themselves when feet are stuck in the muck of life, when all the air we breathe seems stagnant, when we may have to pick our feet out of soiled shoes and run through the sludge in order to get free and clean again.

So what can you do if you feel stuck due to the uncontrollable chaos around you—be it deep loss or disturbing change you never saw coming? Perhaps today is in allowing yourself to not do. Perhaps you sit quietly by with your screaming, sobbing mind a moment longer before raging against your own emotional machine. These emotions, they may be trying to tell you something! And I have noticed that when I can acknowledge them to myself (and not first pour them out to others), I can accept them, I can love me through them, in a way that no comforting word or even embrace can. Sigh. I am beginning to recognize that no love can soothe like the silent, humble loves of God and self, and I mourn. I mourn the loss of who I thought was me, or the needs I thought I had—comfort from others in words and hugs, attention, time, and affirmation, and then I bid them farewell and celebrate the sustaining spirit within me. Turns out having 10s of close friends offering empathy deeper than I imagined, can never solve my struggle, will not resolve my pain. This beginning to clear, this ability to look out rather than down, to lift leg over bike on a day of no real commitments other than to myself comes alone from the faith that God has this. It is too big for any human to hold, and all I can do is stand beside myself in the deep and compassionate love of Christ, hold my own hand, rest my own head on shoulder, whisper my own sweet nothings into my ear, catch puddles of giant, warm tears on chest and lap and notice my love for me growing. This is success. This is more successful than 7 days/week of neti and nasya, than regular meditation or bed and rise time, even more than smooth digestion, and even more than sustained positive relationship with another.

This possibility, and actuality of moments of stillness, of gentle appreciation for who I have been created to be, this is a success beyond any I could have ever imagined. And it can be achieved even while struggling to move slowly through the mud, even when noticing I am inhaling and exhaling is the only progress I make. For, in fact, I have not changed in these moments. I am still a daughter of God, I am still fearfully and wonderfully made, and so are you. The thing is, I did not learn any of this upon summiting a blissful mountaintop. I am only learning this by trudging through it all, pulling leeches from feet and waiting for the iodine to purify the water when the fast acting pump is broken. It is only here that I can see that it is possible to find peace amidst the pain. When I lift my heavy boot to move, that peace becomes joy, because here I am, moving, slowly and aware, not running away, not standing still and afraid, but taking my time to preserve myself in the grace of God.

May you begin to look up today, to take in the beauty beyond your gaze upon a blurry horizon. May you feel the sun warm your face as it peeks through the clouds. May you invite eyes to close and invite a smile across your face despite the darkness. May you redefine success, and see yourself like a beautiful lotus, making it’s way out of the muck.

 

Non-Negotiables

A few months ago, my teacher and Ayurvedic Health Counselor, Larissa Hall Carlson, recommended that I make a list of non-negotiables: daily practices that are mine, and that I will stand firm on in order to prioritize my self care and cultivate my desired quality of non-rushing. It being one of the toughest months of my life thus far,  with many traditionally stable aspects suddenly out of balance, it took me a several days before I made a list. It was a long list, a laundry list. Many of those listed were ideals, that would not become daily realities, and I soon realized that my own list had set me up for failure. I wasn’t going to put my foot down (with myself) about meditating every morning at 6:15am! There are probably about 3 days each week, at least, at this moment in time, when I really need the sleep instead. By listing this on my non-negotiable list, and not fulfilling it, I was making it impossible to meet my own goals. I already felt so low in many ways, and so this was not helping. I also wasn’t going to never use the phone in the car, nor always avoid multitasking. While these are great goals I aspire to, I recognize now that they are negotiable. If I am sick, or up in the middle of the night attending to that wonderful time of the month, sleep is key; attempting to meditate while tired often leads to sleep anyway! In the case of an emergency (physical, emotional or spiritual) using the phone in the car may be a lifesaver! And multitasking, unfortunately, is a life-long challenge to overcome. Stress often leads to rushing for me, and doing several things at once often results. If I have this as a non-negotiable, I am in a way denying my own emotion of stress by telling myself I cannot feel that way, because I will likely then break a non-negotiable. I had written a far too strict list of commandments, many of which did not make it out of my notebook and into reality.

A few months went by and I received an email from Anna Kunnecke, who is all about declare[ing] dominion over your beautiful life. In it, she encouraged her readers to be “very very gentle, and very very fierce.” She had a list of Daily Non-Negotiables, followed by a list of Bigger Non-Negotiables. I have no idea if these women (Larissa & Anna) know each other, but I took it as a sign and remade my list. This time, I was gentle with myself; I refused to list anything that would be impossible to do at least 6 days each week, but almost always 7, on my daily non-negotiables. I also got clear with myself and fiercely considered ways in which I had sacrificed my own self-care and made a pact to follow through with myself. My list is shorter, simpler and contains the gems that I now cherish when I catch myself following through, which is, I am proud to say, most days!

 

Daily Non-Negotiables:

  1. Poop (preferably in the morning after a big glass of warm water, or before the water)
  2. Wash the essentials (showers everyday in the winter do a number on my dry and sensitive skin. That’s my skin saying, “what, you rolled in mud naked again? How is that possible, snow is covering every inch of existence as far as the eye can see!? Oh, you didn’t, then get the heck out of the hot shower, and put some oil on instead. It’s only a few parts of you that stink!”)IMG_4496
  3. Eat at least one meal with utter gratitude and conscious presence (avoiding reading, cell phone, violence—in conversation, literature or media, etc)
  4. Snuggle with my Black Lab-Pitt Amazing Dog
  5. Go outside willingly even on days the weather sucks. But, if every outdoor trip is a must, at least look at the sky or a tree and soak in the beauty for a moment. It makes it is so much easier to go outside when you have to, and lessens the complaints and judgements that infiltrate mind & body in the 4 months of Michigan winter.
  6. Write a list of 5 gratitudes before bed
  7. Go to bed content and in acceptance of the days events, with love in my heart for my loved ones

Non-Negotiables for Life:

  1. Get in bed with enough time to sleep 8 hours, in order to get up in time not to rush off in a huff
  2. The price of healing (local, organic, fresh, unprocessed) food is more than worth it! Even when it means that buying groceries takes precedence over going out for a drink with friends—have them over instead!
  3. Drive as little as possible, but don’t sacrifice your sanity or your health either
  4. Prioritize Rest. The feet up reading, lounging, snuggling, task-free kind of rest.
  5. Go with your gut. It’s always right if you are truly listening. Just make sure it’s your gut and not fear you are hearing!
  6. Move deliberately and with peaceful intention. 6 days each week, when not fighting a cold, flu, etc. practice yoga, take a walk, go for a swim, or play– dance, hike, kayak, frisbee…
  7. Cook! It’s the best medicine. You love it. And nearly always brings solace.
  8. Bite your tongue long enough to let another person finish their thought. This is one that I have to write down to remind me how important it is, and how unfortunately easy it is to forget!
  9. Tell the truth! And all of it, to a few trusted friends, mentors and/or a therapist.
  10. Limit work to 6 days/week, maximum.

Ahhhhh. It’s a breath of fresh air to read these again and feel content with the list. I encourage you to make your own. You may have more or less than I do. Its not about the numbers or how lofty your words may appear to others (I listed poop as number 1, remember…if this is surprising to you, let’s book a diet & lifestyle consultation right away!!)  And it’s certainly not about how humble, strong, peaceful or together the list makes you appear on paper, rather this is all about getting clear with what you find essential for connecting to your true self, honoring and serving that divine soul so that you can live your dharma (your life’s purpose, your spiritual practices, your life).