Yoga: A Force to be Reckoned With

As yoga teachers, we’re incredibly lucky to connect personally with so many people through our classes. We get to hear stories and be witnesses of how yoga literally and emotionally moves others, and how the practice can shift their lives. Recently, I had a student come up to me at the end of class, thanking me for a great practice and on the brink of tears. She felt embarrassed to be crying, exclaiming she wasn’t even sure why she was so emotional. So, I gave her a long hug, reassuring her that it was normal and good and human to feel this way after practicing. And the tears rushed forward. This wasn't the first time I've seen people have an emotional moment during or after class, or had a student come up to me and say that something I mentioned had resonated with them. And I don't mention this to toot my own yoga teacher horn. I bring attention to it because what I share isn't something intensely wise or deep -- it's normal human stories from my normal human life. And even these simple shares can have a huge affect on how people approach their practices, but more importantly, how they hold space for themselves. Being a teacher isn't just leading a class through a couple of sequences -- it's an opportunity to be vulnerable in hopes you'll inspire someone else to do the same. Yoga encourages us to shed old skins. To show our wounds and scars, no matter how fresh, in hopes that they inspire others to look at theirs with more compassion. In hopes that they'll look at their "failures" and recognize the tender humanity in them.

One of my other students just returned from India, fresh off of his teacher training. He brought me back some sweet little gifts, and told me about his future plans, excited to stretch his wings as a new teacher and to spread the message and power of yoga because of how much it has served him. I remember him chatting with me one day, right after he had made the decision to go to India for his training, and the sparkle in his eyes and how he told me how excited he was to embark on this adventure. It took me back to my own decision to become a teacher, and like a sped-up movie, my subsequent journey to where I am today. I was so happy for him. Not just because he was following such a BIG dream, but because of the anticipatory excitement I had for how this process would change his entire life... like it had mine.

This practice is not just breathing and stretching. And we are so much more than yoga students or teachers. We are conduits of a thousands-of-years-old ritual that has the power to CHANGE EVERYTHING. From peeling away emotional layers so we can finally release some tears, to traveling across the globe because we feel so pulled to spread this message, yoga is an undeniable FORCE — a force that drives us towards something much greater and much bigger than ourselves. It has the power to help us reconnect with our bodies, understand our minds, work past our emotional blockages, and find a deeper connection to our Higher Selves. Yoga is like boarding an old ship towards paradise. The journey may be slow, rocky, and even scary at times. We might get frustrated at the process, wishing we had chosen a speedier vessel or curse how the journey tests our patience. But once we have arrived -- once we've seen where this ship has taken us -- we know that every single wave that knocked us about was one hundred percent worth it.

Bowing deeply everyday to this practice.

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.