My Journey Through My Saturn Return

I first heard about Saturn Return when I signed up for a talk about it at the Wanderlust Festival in Squaw Valley. The small description mentioned it being related to astrology, and as as someone who is slightly obsessed with all things tied to the zodiac, I signed right up. As the speaker began to go into what a Saturn Return meant, how to figure out when yours is, and what to even DO with that information, I was instantly hooked on knowing EVERYTHING about my own Saturn Return phase.

But let's back up and start with the basics. What does a Saturn Return even mean? Basically, it's the time in your life when Saturn literally returns to the spot in the sky where it was the moment you were born. On average, this planetary trek takes about 29.5 years, landing your (first) Saturn Return right at about the ages of 28 - 29 years old. But more importantly, what it also signifies is a time of intense challenge, change, and/or transformation. Your Saturn Return is basically a face-down-in-the-dirt kind of teacher, one who doles out her lessons via tough love and hard knocks. During the span of time it takes for us to travel through this phase (on average about 2.5 - 3 years) we may experience some rude awakenings -- be it in our career, love life, or even on a deeper, personal level with ourselves. What they say about Saturn though is that these lessons come with a hefty reward at the end: greater knowledge about life and ourselves, with the opportunity to grow in ways we never thought we could. I love the AstroTwins description of the vibe of the Saturn Return:

"During the Saturn return [...] you will come face to face with your own blocks and be forced to push through them. All the “mistakes” you made in the 28 years leading up to this seem to crystallize. Rather than repeating them on autopilot, you have a chance to turn lemons into lemonade. And if you refuse to heed those lessons, Saturn will bring a drill sergeant style smackdown. Indeed, the Saturn return starts off feeling a bit like boot camp for a lot of people. But drop and give him twenty instead of rebelling against those barking orders.  Three years later, you’ll be General Awesome [...] of your own kick-ass army — at the very least, you’ll be decorated with a star or two."

Sounds fun, doesn't it? I'm joking -- it sounds terrifying, or at the very least like a huge pain in the butt. THREE YEARS of taking it on the chin? No one wants to sign up for that. Well, lucky(?) for me, when I found out about Saturn Return even being a thing, I was already well into mine. According to my birth chart, Saturn was in Sagittarius when I was born, meaning that my Saturn Return would begin once Saturn mosied on over to this sign again. And that began on December 24, 2014. Three days before my ten year high school reunion (which, subsequently would also be where I reconnected with my now soon-to-be husband. Weird, right?). 2014 was also the year I got certified to teach yoga (earlier that February). But at that point, I didn't really feel like I had any sort of experience being a "real" teacher yet, and I definitely hadn't found my true voice. However, once I got deeper into my Saturn Return, let's just say shit started to get real... real quick.

My first BIG moment came a little later into 2015. I started working at the studio I trained with (my home studio) which was a dream come true in and of itself, but obviously carried some big expectations to do my very best as a teacher. I quickly got a job at a second studio I really loved. I then got a second practice site to see if I could increase my reach to clients. I held my very first workshop. I did a training in ACT therapy and a training weekend with Laughing Lotus Yoga. I mean, I was off and RUNNING. I was suddenly doing so much, all at once, and at first it felt incredible. The year prior had been my "slow" year; I didn't really feel super busy or super satisfied with the way I was doing things. I knew I loved yoga, and I knew I loved being a therapist, but things just felt like they were dragging their feet. So, when 2015 hit like a whirlwind of action, I was actually really glad to have the fire lit under my ass, and to be juggling a million things at once. After all, this was what I had always wanted, right?

So I kept chugging along, head-first and at 100 miles per hour. I signed up for a training in Bali with a teacher who had won my heart (and would eventually inspire a lot of my own teaching) -- my amazing mentor Janet Stone. Needless to say, this training, the trip, and my entire experience in Bali was something that shifted my perspective on many things, but especially on who I wanted to be as a yoga teacher. It instilled the values I wanted to bring into each and every class I taught, and set me on my rightful path for how I wanted to hold space for my students. I also got deathly sick on this trip (read more on that in a different blog post) which taught me some MAJOR life lessons in itself. At the exact same time I was supposed to leave to Bali, one of my best friends told me her boss wanted to start a free monthly yoga class to offer to the public. Her boss happened to be a higher-up at the Hyatt Regency. What began as a little idea for a free yoga class blossomed into a giant community gathering of over 100 yogis each month at the Hyatt: Pints and Poses. By and far, this was one of the coolest things that I had the luck of being a part of, and one of the highlights of my teaching career.

So, yeah. I was teaching and learning at full-force now. I felt stronger in my voice as a teacher, but continued to put myself through the paces by teaching as much as I possibly could, and taking more trainings and workshops. I signed up for another training with Janet for the end of 2016, calling it my Year of Yoga. I taught another workshop that year, led several public classes around town, and began to feel like I was becoming a stronger part of the yoga community. Yet, I still felt deeply insecure in some ways. Knowing that I was fresh out of my training just 2 years prior made me feel like a newbie -- like I could never compare with the big (yoga) dogs. But I kept teaching. I kept learning. I kept forcing myself to push through the insecurities, and to connect with people in my field. To ask for help. To ask for advice. And (this is a big one) to teach from a truly authentic place. To be brave enough to teach like ME.

Cue the end of 2016. I'm making my way towards the final part of my Saturn Return -- about one year left of this knuckle-grinding work, right? By this point, I'm working non-stop. My caseload at my therapist practice is close to full, I'm teaching and subbing a ton, I'm beginning to birth some ideas around my website and a potential newsletter, and my brain is filled to the brim with all the new knowledge I've gained in the past year. I am running on all six cylinders. So, can you guess what happens next, friends?

Yep. Complete burnout.

At the time I wouldn't admit that that's what it was. I would convince myself I was just tired, or that the anxiety was from not getting enough sleep (which was semi-true). I tried to tell myself that my horrible stomach issues were just "always a thing" anyway, and that it wasn't related to having become so busy, that I was making zero time for myself. I continued to push through, to say yes to everything, until I literally couldn't physically do it anymore.

My anxiety was worse than ever -- I had never felt this shitty. I was falling asleep every chance I could, but never felt rested. My stomach and digestive system were a complete mess. My yoga practice dwindled to maybe practicing once per week, and my meditation practice was a goner. All I wanted to do was sleep, cry, or hide from everyone (or a lovely combo of all three). I knew that something had to change. That this was no longer sustainable. That the the person I actually WANTED to be was dying away slowly... ironically enough at the hands of an agenda I thought would lead me to be better at all of these things.

Enter 2017. And slowly, I started saying no more.

No to taking on more classes than I knew I could adequately teach. No to clients who wanted to schedule at inconvenient times. No to talking on the phone when I was dead tired at the end of the day. Even no to seeing my friends sometimes (which was really hard). And at the same time I started saying YES -- to more rest, less things on my agenda, and concentrating my efforts on finding BALANCE rather than SUCCESS.

And holy shit, did it liberate me.

I started trying to eat better, I started to be more conscious of my schedule, and I basically started to practice what I preached every day to my students and clients: THAT SELF CARE EFFING MATTERS.

So, here we are in 2017. And what's my first workshop of the new year? A self-care workshop for women! (I clearly apply my own life lessons to my work quickly, don't I? LOL.) I chugged into 2017 with this newfound resolution to watch myself and my schedule, and make sure I didn't let the part of me that wanted to do ALL THE THINGS lead. And guess what? I got offered some of the most beautiful and fun opportunities of my career. I did a training with my original teacher (who I missed dearly), I got to go to Marfa to speak about relationships from a therapist's viewpoint, I did a meditation meetup for SXSW, and a mindfulness training for a group of teachers in the fitness community. Deeper into 2017, I felt like myself again -- the anxiety had dwindled and I felt in control of my life. 

Then more beautiful things started to happen.

My fiance proposed (which was like yay! and what?! and now I have to plan a WEDDING??), which was one of the best moments in my life. Then I got the news every therapist intern anxiously awaits once that 3,000th hour is signed off on -- my hours were approved and I was a fully licensed therapist! This was a huge, huge accomplishment for me, and almost 4 years of hard work in the making. So many good things were happening to me, and it wasn't because I was stressing MORE. It was because I was trying my hardest to live in a VALUE-DRIVEN way. I was aligning myself more often with things that felt right, saying no to things that felt wrong, and accepting that certain things were just going to be out of my control. The shitstorm finally felt like it had passed -- and it had made room for an incredible set of prizes at the end of the tunnel. 

So, my Saturn Return ends this December -- not officially, but that'll be the 3 year mark, which is the longest it can go. Maybe it's already over? Who knows. But what I do know is that taking time to reflect on this era of my life made me feel super connected with my own personal journey. It showed me where I've grown, what I've learned, and all the ways in which I've overcome the obstacles set in front of me (including my own ego). These past three years molded me into the yoga teacher and therapist I always wanted to be (and yes, we're still molding!). It brought the love of my life back into my world, and committed us to each other as partners for life. It taught me that my undying urge to DO IT ALL sometimes gets me the complete opposite: so tired that I can't do ANYTHING. I learned how to take better care of myself and thus how to take care of my work, my friends, my partner, my family, my clients, my students and everyone who is affected by my energy in a more loving and authentic way. But the most important lesson I learned is to show gratitude for the things I have right here, right now (because I worked hard on them, dammit!) and to reflect on my wins just as often as I muddle in my losses.

So whether you're about to be in your own Saturn Return, just left it, or are coming back to it (it happens again in your late fifties -- eek!) I hope that my own story of the lessons garnered through this time inspire you to focus on the knowledge that is brought forth through your own challenges. Go ahead and take some time to reflect on all of the successes you've earned in the past few years. I hope it inspires you to see every fall as a chance to heal. I deeply wish that you begin to see every wound as an intrinsic and beautiful part of your life story. And that whether or not you believe that some giant, ringed planet is having any sort of effect on your life, we can look to our hardships as our greatest teachers of all. 

~

Many thanks to the AstroTwins website, which guided me with lots of helpful information on the mystical story behind the Saturn Return. You can visit it by clicking here to see when your Saturn Return starts, and all about the significance of what it means for you.

Happy stargazing!

 

 

Mindful Social Media

How many times have you checked Instagram today? Facebook? How much of that has been just to see if one of your posts has been Liked? Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not calling anyone out on sneaking a peak to see if the Likes have turned double or (gasp!) triple digit. I’m pretty guilty of that myself. My point is that we do it quite a bit, and that our need for approval via social media has grown exponentially in the last couple of years. This never-ending point system of approval can certainly do a number on our self-confidence, and if we’re not careful, can begin to affect how we feel about ourselves. 

As a yoga teacher, social media has a big influence on my career — and thus my marketing strategies. These days, most teachers promote their classes solely through social media, and their posts will usually have at least some impact in the number of students that stroll into class that evening — especially if the post is interesting, memorable, or just plain nice to look at. When done well, marketing your services (and basically yourself) through social media can be an incredible way to reach out to your community, pique interest in potential students, get people to attend your classes or events, and make important connections with others in your field. 

But when is it too much? How do we stop ourselves from getting wrapped up in this world of Likes and the perfect yoga picture when it all feels so necessary nowadays? For me, it’s important to think about a few key things before posting. I’ve tried hard to develop a more mindful way of interacting with the online world — one that creates a presence that reflects my personality, my beliefs, and is authentic to my voice. I want my posts to show who I am, not only as a yoga teacher, but as a person. Most importantly, I want to attract people who connect with my style, and build relationships with like-minded individuals. 

Here are a few self-reflection strategies that have helped me along my journey to a more mindful and gratifying social media presence. 

 

Ask yourself: why are you posting this?

If the answer is anything close to “I just want to see how many people will like this” or “I’m needing a little external affirmation that I’m prettier / stronger / more skillful than I think I am,” then maybe re-think that post. Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing like a well-Liked picture to make you feel good about yourself. However, the negative side is that the gratification is usually very short-lived. You’ll be looking for more affirmation and approval in no time, leading you to post more for external approval than for whatever message you’re actually trying to convey. 

Post because you want to share a message that is important to you, or because you stumbled over a beautiful poem, or because you are proud of how you nailed handstand and just want to share your joy! Post something that already feels good to you, not something that needs multiple-digit likes before you think it’s worthy. Also, most approval-seeking posts tend to be pretty transparent, causing people to disengage instead of connect with your online presence. In other words, most people know when you’re posting for approval. Think about what you felt last time you saw an overtly self-glorifying post. Did it make you want to engage with that person, or did it make you want to roll your eyes and keep scrolling? 

Post because something feels authentically good to share, and let the approval come from within instead! You’ll be less likely to get that “hooked-on-the-Likes” feeling in the future, and your posts will likely feel way more authentic to your followers and friends, attracting the right people to you. 

 

Does this post have the potential to inspire, bring happiness, or simply make people smile?

If the answer is yes, then post away! There’s no downside to simply spreading those good vibes around. And no, not all posts are going to be super deep or inspiring, but that’s okay. The simplest posts can be the most joy-inducing. Think about how baby animals or a really funny meme make you feel. Pretty good, right? Use your presence to make those around you feel joyful. Even if the Likes are few, you’ll feel great knowing you made someone smile (even if it’s just your sweet grandma who likes everything you’ve ever uploaded). 

 

Follow people who inspire you… and don’t follow those who do the opposite. 

Still have that ex-boyfriend, mean boss, creepy neighbor, or angry, politically-obsessed friend on your feed? WHY? Remove everything and everyone from your timeline who doesn’t make you feel good right now. There is absolutely no reason to have your day flooded with negativity, anger, or anything that doesn’t sit well with you. We oftentimes keep these people around because we feel guilty, or maybe we just forget they even exist (until they post something that makes you want to throw your phone out the window). This is why the Hide button on Facebook is such a great tool. All the clean up of an unfriending, with none of the hurt feelings. Same with Instagram — unfollow any accounts that don’t make you feel positively about your life, job, looks, and Self. And finally, if anyone is being directly aggressive or negative towards you, please do not be afraid to use that Block button.

It can be such a great relief to de-clutter your feed of negative things and people, and I promise it’ll make you look forward that much more to checking your feeds. Knowing you won’t accidentally come across anything that will cause you to feel uncomfortable, angry, or insecure can be very freeing, and can make your time on social media uplifting instead of deflating. Once you’re done purging the yucky stuff, go look up accounts or people that make you smile. Search for those who are conveying positive messages, or even accounts that tickle your funny bone. Create a feed that is full of positivity, and make a concentrated effort to only add people or accounts who are in line with what makes you happy.

And finally, just put the phone down!

Like any habit, social media checking and obsessing are strengthened the more you do it. If you notice you've had a media-heavy day, go take a break. My cue for myself is usually tired eyeballs and a sense of anxiety in my chest from information overload. When you notice you’ve gone a little overboard, put your phone away and go unplug. Play with your pet, have a stretch, take a long walk, listen to some music, or go read that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table for the past month. Treat your brain (and your ego) to a little break. 

And finally, just relax about these made-up symbols of approval! After all, at the end of the day, no one is going to remember you for the Likes you had or the followers you accrued. What will most live on in people’s minds is the memories they had of your joyful presence and your authentic voice — and no amount of Likes is worth more than that. 

The Basics of Mindfulness Meditation

What is mindfulness and why is it useful?

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

This definition encapsulates all of the important tenets of mindfulness, which is intention and a neutral reaction to — and thus acceptance of — our reality. Mindfulness is a way to connect to the present moment, and through this awareness we can gain more insight on both our emotional state and our physical body. We can then use this information to address issues like stress, anxiety, or depression by figuring out what needs to be healed or explored further.

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness is a state we can enter through meditation. In other words, meditation can be a vehicle towards mindfulness. But you don’t need to meditate to be mindful. You can mindfully walk, eat, and brush your teeth, among other things! Being mindful simply requires your full attention on the task at hand, and softening your mind to be nonjudgmental about the process. We take away the labeling of “good” or “bad” and just accept what is. This, of course, takes practice!

Self-Compassion: The Essential Element

In order to cultivate non-judgement and acceptance in our lives, it is important to have a strong sense of self-compassion. Why? Because as humans, we are naturally inclined to criticize and be hard on ourselves, especially when we fail or things go wrong. Without self-compassion, we have nothing to counter the inner critic with. This may worsen already negative experiences, and dim the light on positive ones.

“But isn’t my inner critic motivating?”

The short answer? NO! Would you "motivate" a friend or loved one by being hard, mean, or critical of them? Probably not. We know that reacting to them in this way would likely make them feel worse, thus less motivated. If we approach ourselves with kindness, support, and reassurance, we are more likely to progress and move forward.

Think of two different coaches and you're the athlete. Imagine being a complete newbie at whatever sport you're playing, and already feeling fear, insecurity, and intimidation. Coach #1 is harsh and aggressive; he yells at you to BE BETTER, DO BETTER, DON'T MESS UP OR ELSE. YOU'RE A FAILURE IF YOU DON'T GET IT RIGHT. He is constantly breathing down your neck, making you feel even more nervous than you already are -- which causes you to stress out. And what happens when you're stress level is high? You mess up.

Coach #2 is motivating, but compassionate. He reaffirms that you're human, and when you mess up, he acknowledges it as normal and part of the process. He also builds you up, highlighting your successes (however small they may be) and reassures you that all of it is part of the process -- it's all practice, so it's all good! 

Now, which coach would you rather have? Pretty easy to choose, huh? Coach #2 is what it sounds like to approach yourself with self-compassion. Not only does it feel better, but it's actually leads to greater productivity!

Now, let's get down to mediation basics:

Meditation 101

The following is a very simple form of meditating, and a good one if you are just starting the practice:

Sit up tall, crown of the head reaching towards the ceiling. Lean back and align your spine and head right over your pelvis. Let your hands relax on your legs (palms down on knees or folded in lap), let your shoulders soften, and your face and jaw be soft. Close your eyes, and take three clearing breaths, sighing out audibly with each one.

As you move through the first part of this exercise, notice when your mind begins to drift away or “gets hooked” by a thought. When this happens, gently acknowledge that it has (you can simply say “that's a thought” to yourself) and bring your awareness back to the breath and body.

Begin first by noticing your body through your senses:

What does your seat feel like on the chair/cushion? What does the texture of your clothes feel like on your skin? Does the temperature of your skin feel cold or warm? How do your feet feel inside your shoes? Continue this way throughout the whole body.

Now, what sounds do you hear? Can you hear all the different ones in the room, even the most subtle? What about the sounds outside of the room? Can you hear your own breath?

Notice any smells in the room. How many can you notice? Without labeling them as pleasant or unpleasant, just notice. If there’s no smells you recognize right away, can you feel the coolness of the clean air as you inhale?

Finally, notice what you see on the screen of your eyelids. What colors, shapes, lights, or splotches appear, if any? If it is just dark, can you notice that? 

Now that you are relaxed and focused on the present moment, you can start your meditation. Begin to breathe deeply and rhythmically, trying to even out the inhales and exhales to about equal in length (4-5 seconds is a good place to start). Focus all of your awareness on your breath — how it travels into the body, the sensations as it moves past the nostrils, down the throat, expands the lungs and ribs, lifts the chest. Then follow it back out; notice the stomach softening, the ribs and lungs relaxing, the shoulders soften, and the warm temperature of the air as it exits the nose. 

REMEMBER: Keep the focus on your breath, and again, if the mind wanders (which it will) simply acknowledge that it has, and gently bring your focus back to the breathe (even if you do this 1,000 times!) This is the key. Having a “blank mind” is impossible, so don’t make that your goal. Let yourself come back again and again to your point of focus (in this case the breath) and eventually, the span of time in which you leave your focus will slowly begin to shorten. There is no right way to meditate — like everything else, practice will make your experience with it a more fruitful one!

Counting and Mantra Meditation

Everyone finds different ways to drop deeper into their meditation. For some of us, counting the breath works well to keep our minds on track. Simply count the duration of your inhale in your head as you draw in (e.g. “one...two...three...four...”) then pause at the top for 1-2 seconds, counting those as well. Then exhale for the same amount that you inhaled, counting that out too. When you reach the bottom of your exhale, pause again for 1-2 seconds. We call this “box breathing,” and it can be useful not only in centering your focus, but in calming the nervous system and alleviating symptoms of anxiety.

Mantra meditation (some people may call it transcendental meditation) is similar to counting, but instead of numbers, we repeat a word or phrase to ourselves as we breath. It is useful to pick two words that compliment each other, to use on the inhale and exhale. For example, you can say “in” on the inhale, and “out” on the exhale. If you want a word or phrase with deeper meaning, feel free to come up with something more personal. One of my favorites is the Sanskrit mantra of “Soham,” which translates into “I am.” As you inhale, you’ll say “so” and as you exhale, ham.” Play with different variations and find one that works best for you!

Mindful meditation can be explored and practiced in many different ways. Using a few or maybe all of the above techniques, you can begin to incorporate small bits of this practice into your daily life. Start small — maybe 5 minutes of seated meditation in the morning right when you wake up, and see how that feels. Set a short term goal, and write down how you feel after each try. Even the smallest steps towards mindfulness can cultivate big results!

Good luck & happy meditating!