The Beast vs. Your Compassionate Self

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Last weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to lead a yoga + women’s circle for @hellomytribe and an incredible group of women, many of whom were new moms.  Our night was themed around self-care, and thus intrinsically, self-compassion. 

Before yoga, I had the women answer three questions:

What are you ready to let go of?

What are you ready to make room for / cultivate?

How is this in service to loving yourself more?

After a fluid vinyasa practice, we settled in to ask ourselves some questions about how we approached self-care. We addressed the issue everyone (especially a women trying to do everything) faces: tackling The Beast. The Beast is the part of you that criticizes everything — your decision to spend money on a massage, to leave your kid while you go to yoga, the one who says you’re never going to be as good as that perfectly put-together mom you follow on Instagram. The Beast is mean; it is the part of you that squashes your attempts to follow your gut and do what you know is best. So how do we fight the Beast?

This is where your Compassionate Self comes in. Your Compassionate Self is the part of you that encourages taking good care of your body, mind, and soul, through practices you know you need and plenty of rest. Your Compassionate Self loves you unconditionally; she never criticizes, but instead tells you to stop being so hard on yourself. To be grateful for all you have. And that you deserve that extra hour of sleep or that session with your therapist that you’ve been putting off (regardless of who it inconveniences). 

Through guided imagery, I had the women envision their Compassionate Self, and what they would say when their current self told them about the problems they’ve been struggling with. What would this loving, kind, and patient part of you say? How would she encourage you to embody self-love? How would she remind you that you’re beautiful, worthy, and deserve all the best? After a quiet moment with their Compassionate Self, the women wrote down what this part had told them. And all the answers were somewhat similar:

“This problem won’t matter at all in the long run.”

“You’re stronger than you think, and you’re going to be okay.”

“You don’t need to be the perfect version of a woman — what you are right now is pretty damn good.”

“I love you. No matter what.”

Not only were we all encouraged by the messages given to us by our Compassionate Self, but we realized that this part of us ALWAYS EXISTS. It’s not some made up part of you because you did an exercise; that’s just how we tap into it. It’s a part of you that has always lived within you, and always will. We just need to call on her more often. We need to pay attention to her quiet and kind voice. We need to listen to what she has to say, when the Beast is loudly beating us down. We need to pause for long enough for her to come through. Because her message has the potential to not just make us feel better, but to save us.

As with most things, tapping into compassion is a practice. And when it comes to fighting self-criticism, it will likely be a practice that you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. But it’s a practice that is strengthened with each time we do it. And slowly, but surely, we can make our Compassionate Self become just as strong as our Beast… or maybe, just maybe, even stronger.

So, like I told the women that night, as we all bonded over the human condition of always striving to be our best selves: The Beast might always have the first word, but he doesn’t need to have the last.

Want to do this meditation for yourself? Click here for the guided imagery audio for tapping into your Compassionate Self.

 

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. She was also 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!