In Search of the Elusive Authentic Self

In my coaching practice the issue of authenticity is a featured player. More often than not clients will, at some point in the session, tell me they are either:

  1. Searching for their authentic self
  2. Struggling to live an authentic life
  3. Questioning whether their motives are coming from an authentic place.

What has to happen for the conditions for self-doubt to manifest? When do we begin to feel we’ve lost touch with the image we hold in our mind’s eye of who we believe ourselves to be? And how can we return to the clarity that keeps us grounded and focused on the values we cherish most? When we answer those questions authenticity becomes less of an intention and more of a truth we live. 

When I was a child I was teased for having two left feet. More often than not I had fresh or fading scabs on my elbows and knees from all the falls I took. Like a puppy learning to leash walk I was easily distracted by metaphorical squirrels. I tripped over sidewalk cracks, missed steps when climbing stairs and walked into people, poles and walls in my pursuit of something different from the task at hand.

As an adult, while my elbows and knees have healed, not much else has changed. I’m still easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. I still stumble. I fall, enraptured by the aspirations of others at the expense of my own. My admiration for the high bar others set for themselves ignores the higher bar I’ve set for myself and fills my brain with ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should do that’ at the expense of my heart’s song. This longing to be someone I’m not steals validity from the wonderful life I’m living. It diminishes the dreams I have. It diverts my attention away from the values most important to me and ultimately away from my authentic self.  

The best we have to offer the world is grounded in personal authenticity. When we lose sight of that – when we feel lost – how do we find our way back? The answer to that question is as unique as the journey we’ve chosen for ourselves. But I find these suggestions useful:

  1. Get away from the noise. Take a day to yourself. Set work, obligation and commitment aside and give your heart the space to expand.
  2. Breathe with intention. When you feel unmoored, close your eyes and breathe. Lengthen the exhalation until it’s longer than the inhalation. Imagine the in-breath moving into the soles of your feet and connecting you to the earth.
  3. Trust your instincts but know that the answers aren’t black and white. Some of us choose to listen to our heart. Others listen to our brain. But what about the space in between? What is that space saying to you and how does it align to the authentic life you want to live? Is there an equilibrium to be found?
  4. Honor the truth that journeys change. There are detours, road closures and surprises if we choose to spend some time exploring roads taken less often. It’s these moments that help us take the next step.

When we look carefully, we discover that the sense of self is not a particle that never changes, but rather a flow, a wave of thought and feeling that can increase and decrease and is therefore not permanent.

—Shinzen Young, “Brief Teachings”


Hi. I’m Exhausted. How are You?

There’s a Saki Santorelli quote that asks us to treat ourselves with kindness. If we can learn to treat ourselves with kindness, then we can learn how to treat others with kindness.

If there’s ever been a time to put this in practice, it’s now.

I’m exhausted. Exhausted to the point that it’s hard to speak. Exhausted to the point that if you mention Vice President Harris my eyes well up and I spill joyful tears. And yet I feel as though we’ve been subjected to a forty-eight months long mass psychic trauma and when the valve was opened on Wednesday the grieving for the past four years began.

That’s how it feels. A muddy puddle of joy and grief. I know the mud will eventually settle and I’ll be left with a pool of clear joy but for now this is what I’ve got. Mud. And it’s exhausting.

I don’t think it matters where on the philosophical continuum your beliefs rest. Those of us who ‘won’ mourn the past. Those of us who ‘lost’ are angry about the future. I think it’s important to hold space for the sadness of the previous four years and I think it’s wise to consider what we want for our future. But to dwell in either place for too long serves no one.

So. How do we treat ourselves with kindness? While I’m waiting for the mud to settle, for the grief to pass, how do I treat myself with kindness?

I’m going to stop fighting the exhaustion. I embrace with a full heart the shift in energy that arrived this week, but I need to rest. I need to stop talking about it. I need to spend some time letting go of the frustration and the fear of the last four years. But I need to let go in my own time and at my own pace. That is how I will treat myself with kindness.

I will polish my critical thinking skills and formulate opinions based on what I learn and not on what people tell me. That is how I will treat myself with kindness.

I will practice empathy toward those whose anger is fear-based. It will be difficult when the anger turns to violence, but that is how I will treat myself with kindness. I will not excuse the violence but will do my best to understand the circumstances that caused the violence.

I will treat you with kindness by giving you the space you need to process. When you need silence I will be quiet. When you need to be heard I will listen.

So for now, go treat yourself with kindness. You deserve it. 

We all deserve it.


The Day After: Teaching Yoga in the Storm

Even though I saw it coming. Even though we all saw it coming. There was an element of stunned surprise as we watched it happen.

It’s morning. I’ve had my coffee. I’ve watched Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue from last night (it’s worth fourteen minutes of your life). I’m flipping between CNN, MSNBC and Fox (yes, I am). What I believed, what I thought was right and my innate optimism is scattered across the floor this morning like a bucket of spilled Lego blocks. And now I’m left to figure out how to put my faith in who we are as a nation back together. How the Legos stack. They’ll never align the same way. I’m shook.

Are you? You should be.

But before I dig out my pink pussy hat from 2016 and run off to the nearest march, I have yoga classes to teach. People to coach. Papers to write and a Noom account to manage.

So. As yoga teachers, what do we do? When we log into Zoom today do we pretend it never happened? Is this the day we pull out the Ahimsa trope and rehash all the cliches’ we’ve gathered about non-violence over three decades of teaching? Do we set aside the vigorous flow we had planned and trade it in for quiet reflection? I don’t know. I guess it depends on who we are as teachers. 

Something is happening. We preach ‘be here now’ without ever really understanding what that means. Be here now. Stay awake. Remain present. Do not sweep what is happening in our country under the yoga mat.

This morning I’m reactive. I’m responding thoughtfully (I hope) to comments I see in my Facebook feed from strangers across the Atlantic who are describing yesterday as ‘amusing’ or ‘not as bad as…’ (choose any atrocity in Northern Ireland).  I sent a lengthy text to a dear friend wondering why the stock market is up today because my brain is filled with images of gleeful brokers in suits and Italian leather shoes surrounded by money and oblivious to the carnage around them. Every time I hear a talking head say, “this is not who we are” I ask myself, “then who are we?”

Like I said. I’m reactive. I’m reactive when I want to be active. Reactivity is impulsive and not well-thought out. We witnessed reactivity yesterday. And while we watched the capital stormed by thousands of maskless souls, three thousand nine hundred other souls died of COVID. But that’s another story.

I don’t want to react. I want to act. By that I mean I want to be informed. Even when that means tuning into news that may lean toward a political philosophy that is different from my own. I want to be responsive and responsible.

As a yoga teacher, as a yoga therapist, as a coach – it’s an obligation I intend to fulfill.


Resolve & Clarity

There was a time when New Year’s resolutions meant everything to me. This is how it typically played out:

  1. In December I begin to create a list of goals impossibly long and non-specific
  2. By mid-January I’m inching toward failure
  3. February arrives and the goals and aspirations I imagined for myself in December are forgotten
  4. Guilt ensues

I’m not alone. By February most resolution loving humans have become fickle wrecks, rationalizing all the reasons why the promises we made to ourselves were broken. Why no amount of good intention was enough to realize change.

After many decades of repeating this pattern I decided resolutions were a fools errand and stopped torturing myself. Until now. This year, 2021, is different. I’m not certain why. Perhaps  the chaos and commotion of 2020 has left me feeling untethered and the only way to anchor myself in the present is to build a framework for the future.

I’ve read that one of the reasons why our resolve fails after a few short weeks is because the goals we set for ourselves are not specific enough. For instance, it’s not enough for me to tell myself “In 2021 I want to be published.” What does ‘be published’ mean? Do I mean a letter to the editor of my local newspaper or a feature in O Magazine? It’s more helpful for me to set this intention: “In 2021 I want to be published in the Readers Write column of The Sun.” That still may not happen, but the specificity of the intent allows me to create a plan of action that moves me forward toward that goal.

In the past, like many, ‘lose weight’ and it’s sidekick ‘exercise more’ has made an appearance on my list of resolutions. Even when my weight was well in the realm of ‘average’ and I was hitting the magic number of steps. It landed on my list this year but I had to wonder why. And so, it’s been helpful to take time to consider what I actually mean when less weight and more exercise land on the list. It hasn’t taken long for me to realize these goals are really not about weight loss and exercise. They’re about health and wellness. They weren’t about fitting into the embossed leather pencil skirt a friend outgrew and passed on to me. They’re about living life with vibrancy. With clarity. Besides, can you see me teaching yoga in an embossed leather pencil skirt?

So how do I find vibrancy? Where is the clarity I seek?

Last year began with the death of my mother. She was an alcoholic. As was my grandfather.  Two months after the local post office lost and then recovered my mother’s ashes (it could only happen to my mom) we shut down and the life we knew became The Before Times. Overnight we were strategizing new coping mechanisms. 

My coping mechanism was wine. What became a glass or two on weekends morphed into a couple of glasses on weekend nights and a glass or two over the course of the work week which eventually morphed into a glass or two every night of the week. Every now and again I took a break for a few days – just to prove I could – but the next COVID graph would send me back to the Pinot. The amount I was drinking was more than I should but I was convinced my nightly habit relieved the pressure of coping in the weird time in which we live. And besides, I only poured the Pinot as a nightcap before climbing into bed. When I started climbing into bed at 7:00 PM I had to ask myself, ‘how much drinking is too much drinking?’

And the cheap Pinot was not supporting the vibrancy and clarity I want for my life. And so, here I go, walking into this new, amazing year as a non-drinker. I’d like to say this is permanent but I don’t know if that’s true. I want it to be true but I’m just a humble and flawed yoga teacher. So we’ll see.


Pop-Up Coaching

What do you envision for yourself in 2021?

This long, difficult year feels like Groundhog Day. Nothing is what it should be and the fog bank of uncertainty that usually rests in the back of our minds rolls in and pondering the future becomes a fool’s errand. The vision we hold for ourselves isn’t clear because nothing is clear.

Where can you go for a dose of clarity?

Coaching.

A coaching session drills down to what matters most to you. A coaching session clears the fog and brings into focus awarenesses that inspire, motivate and move you forward. Coaching is an effective way to create new habits or maintain current ones. It’s useful when facing challenges at work or when considering a career change. Coaching can help you create structure and to regain control if this past year has you feeling a little out of control.

Now that there is hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine it’s time to reignite our passion for life, for our dreams and for our future.

Take coaching for a test drive on Saturday, January 2 or Sunday, January 3. Thirty minute appointments are available between 9AM and 3PM. Book your appointment here.

What do you envision for yourself in 2021? Let’s find out.


Is Gratitude over-rated?

I’ll be honest. The word ‘gratitude’ annoys me. Feeling grateful is wonderful, of course. I felt grateful this past Friday morning when I was awake early enough to see the brilliant sunrise in all her glory. But gratitude? It’s a trending buzzword and after awhile trending buzzwords relinquish their impact to the next buzzword that comes along. There’s plenty of joy to be found, however, in feeling grateful.

Studies suggest that remembering what brings us joy and recording those moments of gratitude in a journal benefits our mental and physical health. The deliberate act of shifting our energy toward the positive rather than nurturing our habit of catastrophizing the difficulties we encounter builds our emotional resilience and reminds us that living is a group experience. In other words, reflecting on the shared experience of Friday’s sunrise is healthier than reflecting on the shared experience of the pandemic.

Another reason why the word ‘gratitude’ annoys me is this: sometimes the concept just feels too big. It’s difficult for me to winnow down all the moments in my day for which I might be grateful. Am I grateful for the morning cup of fresh-pressed coffee my partner Ben brought to me while I stayed in bed? Sure. Am I grateful for the purrs of contentment my cat Bruce shares when we cuddle? Of course. Am I grateful for the roof over my head? Without a doubt. But while the simple act of opening a journal and creating a daily gratitude list of well-meaning gestures, happy accidents and unexpected outcomes might remind me of the good in life, it fails to satisfy the yearning I feel in my heart to understand how acknowledging these moments feeds my soul.

How can we add depth to the act of recognizing the positive in life? 

In yogic philosophy we study Patanjali’s Sutras. In the Sutras, Patanjali describes five Yamas and five Niyamas. The Yamas describe restraints to practice: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation and freedom from grasping. The Niyamas are a collection of five virtues: cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender. Anchoring the contemplation of gratitude in the fourth Niyama self-study (‘svadhyaya’ in Sanskrit) encourages us to explore the nature of gratitude. It supports our understanding of how we express our gratitude as we walk through life. With that understanding we can more fully embrace those moments for which we are grateful. 

If we want to add a deeper dimension to our gratitude practice we can turn to Naikan – the Japanese practice of introspection. When we practice Naikan we ask three simple questions:

  • What have I received?
  • What have I given?
  • What difficulties have I caused?

The questions might focus on a relationship, a situation, an individual or even an event. For example, if I choose to practice Naikan with my focus on Ben then the questions I ask are:

  • What have I received from Ben?
  • What have I given to Ben?
  • What difficulties have I caused Ben?

The obvious fourth question, “What difficulties has Ben caused me?” is ignored. It is human nature to shine a spotlight on that question. It is, however, through the examination of our answers to the first three questions that we discover aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. We learn more about our relationship to gratitude. We move toward enlightenment.

When we open our journal tonight, how will self-study or a Naikan practice influence how we consider gratitude? What would happen if we chose to frame a Naikan practice around those things in our life that cause pain? 


Election Day

Four years ago I didn’t realize how much I needed to see a woman in the White House until it didn’t happen.  And when it didn’t happen I was bereft. I was also afraid for the future of our country. I had taken the election for granted and was too ill-informed to understand how it could have possibly happened that we elected our current President. I remember feeling dazed and finally falling asleep, well past midnight, on the couch of the house where I happened to be cat sitting.

The following morning I headed to Samyama Yoga Center to teach my 8:15 AM class.  I wasn’t convinced that, under the circumstances, anyone would arrive ready to unroll their mat. But they did. Shell-shocked and slack jawed, their eyes swollen from crying too much the night before. 

I hope that tomorrow, when I open my Zoom class, that we are all crying again. This time for joy.

We are so close. So close. But I still have some left over sorrow from 2016 so I’m not going to raise my hopes. I’m going to be patient. And whether it takes a day or a week or a month I’ll be ready to celebrate and ready to thank all the women who came before me. The women who fought for the right to vote and the women who fought – and still fight – for equality.

Today is a very big deal and I’m trying my best to stay calm.

Cooking keeps me calm. I’ve been cooking. Alot.

On Sunday morning I filled the refrigerator with food for the week: rice and lentils, quinoa salad with toasted hazelnuts, congee and sweet potato chili. I filled the freezer, too. On Sunday afternoon I finally took a chance with the ‘yogurt’ button on my Instant Pot Duo and made the cottage cheese we ate with slices of fresh off the vine tomatoes we nurtured on our porch through the summer. Yesterday I made yogurt. This morning I spooned its creamy whiteness into cheesecloth bags and set them up to drain through the day. By this afternoon it will be labneh thick and ready to spoon over berries or baked potatoes. Right now, not even 9:00 AM, I’m caramelizing onions in my cast iron pan. I can freeze some to use later but I have a feeling they won’t last long enough. Most of them are going to grace the caramelized onion and mushroom pizza I’m making for dinner tonight.

Most of my typical Tuesday schedule has been canceled. Peer coaches I had arranged to meet pressed pause for the day and my mentor canceled class today in order to fight the good electoral fight on the streets of New York. I’m teaching a class this afternoon for the pain group in San Mateo and have a meeting with my trauma study group at about the same time as Brian, Rachel, Nicole and Joy begin to report early results. After that you’ll find me eating pizza and streaming MSNBC.

The onions are, at last, caramelized (it took an hour!) and now I’m headed out for a very, very long walk. I might head down to Shoreline but it’s more likely that I’ll speed walk my way around the neighborhood. 

What are you doing today?


The Joy of Small Comforts

So. How’re you doing? It’s been awhile.

We’ve a big couple of weeks ahead of us. You holding up? Yeah. I thought so.

Let me ask you this: what brings you comfort? And you don’t have to say your yoga practice. What brings you to a place where the sharp edges soften and you can feel your jaw unclench?

It depends, doesn’t it? This week for me it seems to be copious amounts of carbohydrates delivered by way of fettuccini. And wine. Lots and lots of wine. Admittedly not the two best choices.

Bruce finding joy in the comfort of recyclable packaging paper.

Thankfully I also find comfort in my morning shuffles. If I start early enough I see Venus in the East and Mars setting in the West. Lately, in the evening, Jupiter and Saturn have been dancing around the moon. I take comfort from the display because these celestial events remind me that I am an infinitesimally small speck spinning through space.The upheavals we endure on our ‘big blue marble’ mean nothing compared to the beauty of the universe.

Ben and I grew container tomatoes and herbs this year and we both find comfort in our small but delicious harvest. There’s something miraculous about dropping a seed into soil and watching it sprout and grow. Even though our ‘garden’ is a slab of cement three floors up it is still a place where we can both connect with the earth.

Bruce the Cat’s demands bring me comfort, too. His bossy meows distract me. They slowly bend my laser focus away from whatever task has me obsessed until he’s on my lap and content to transform his demands into purrs. Other cat people will agree, there is nothing so comforting as a purring cat.

When Ben and I decided to get Bruce a cat tree so that he could gaze out the window and watch the world go by, we made certain there was something for him to look at by installing a bird feeder. Little did we know Bruce had very little interest in ornithology. He could care less there’s a gaggle of birds celebrating the mother lode of seed available at our door all day. But Ben and I find comfort in watching them. And I know my yoga zoom community loves to hear them sing when we’re in practice.

The road ahead is going to stay bumpy a little while longer. Embrace the comfort found in small joys. But take it easy with the fettuccini and wine.


A Bitter Pill

What will I tell them? Ten years from now, maybe twenty – what will I tell them – the grandchildren Ben and I might have – about all of this? Will I tell them at first I didn’t know? That in the thirty minutes it took for me to walk from my home to the pain clinic where I worked the world shut down? How is that possible I didn’t know? When the clinic sent me home as soon as I arrived they offered no reason – only that our clients had left for the day. I didn’t mind that they hadn’t called to tell me. It was a beautiful day and I was happy to have a relaxing afternoon to myself. 

So I began my walk home at two in the afternoon, past the crowds at Trader Joe’s with shopping carts overflowing, down the bike path to Channing Street where the cars queued for the light at Alma to turn green with what felt like more than a little impatience. I walked past an empty Peers Park. I walked all the way home and still didn’t know.

Is that what I’ll tell them? Will I tell them that even though the air was filled with the same strange energy a person might feel after an earthquake – the same strange energy that makes everyone your friend – that I didn’t know?

I don’t remember how I found out – whether I turned on the news when I returned home or if I bumped into someone on the street. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that when I found out everything changed. I crossed the street to Mollie Stone’s and wandered through the crowds among the rapidly emptying shelves until I found something Ben and I might need. Toilet paper.

What will I tell them? Ten years from now, maybe twenty. Will I tell them how our dear cat Bruce, a ginger memory by the time this year is decades in the past, woke me at 3 AM on a Sunday morning. How was it that the wind didn’t wake me first? And then the lightening came and it was both beautiful and tragic. One night a few days later I kept the window by my desk open and when I woke the next morning it was covered with the ash of other people’s lives. Will I tell them we were far away from the flames and still couldn’t breathe? Will I tell them the sky turned orange and the sun disappeared? And on that day everything was illuminated in a way that was both foreign and frightening? 

I wonder if I will tell them a man named George died with a knee on his neck? Or that a woman named Breonna was shot dead in her home. And that their deaths changed everything. Except I don’t know if that is true just yet. I hope it is. 

I wonder if I will tell them about a notorious grandmother named Ruth, and that when she died we lit candles on the steps of the Supreme Court and little girls wore lacy white collars. 

I might mention that it felt like a game at first. That we laughed at people hoarding even the things they did not need. But then we began to miss one another.  

We were angry when there were no more masks for the people trying to save our lives. And we cried when there were no more respirators for the people dying. I wonder if I’ll tell them that?

I don’t think I’ll tell them how scared I was sometimes. And worried. And so anxious that I drank too much wine and even when I told myself that I knew all the tools I could use to not be anxious none of them worked and that finally a doctor gave me some bitter pills.  

I don’t think I’ll tell them that.

Our current Guided Autobiography cohort went rogue and created their own theme and their own sensitizing questions. We wanted to capture this year – what 2020 has done to our lives, our health, our relationships. Wanna go rogue with me? A new 6-week GAB workshop begins on Thursday, October 14th from 4-5:30 PM.

Class size is limited to six. If you’re interested but want to know more you can leave a message at the bottom of this post. You can register for the class here.


Fell Down. Went Boom. Got Up.

Why does time slow down when disaster strikes? In the split second between the moment my toe caught the edge of the cracked sidewalk and I slid to a stop I thought the following:

  • oh crap
  • this is gonna hurt
  • it won’t be that bad
  • should I walk home
  • ouch this really hurts
  • I knew this was a bad idea

The first thing I did after the dust settled and before assessing the damage was to ascertain whether or not there were any witnesses to my awkward fall from grace. Nope. The walking heart attack at the bus stop I’d just run past – the guy with the stained teeshirt stretched over his burger belly was still staring at his phone. No judgement. At least he was still vertical.

The damage: one knee with a rapidly swelling bruise, one road-rashed kneecap, one scraped elbow and two sprained thumbs. Ok. I’d survive. But now what was I going to do? I was less than a mile into what I’d hoped would be a nice five mile shuffle. I could turn around and walk home or defiantly continue toward my goal. While images of Mary Decker Slaney and Zola Budd’s infamous 1984 collision flickered like a Wide World of Sports video in my brain (you have to be a certain age) I chose to compromise. I was too annoyed with myself to turn around but in too much pain to run. I kept moving forward, one step and then another.

That’s all we’re trying to do. Move forward. This is a time of collective, chaotic trauma and we are all figuring out how to navigate our present set of circumstances. But isn’t that what life is? Navigating the circumstances handed to us? Navigating the unknown? Still, the uncertainty of how this tragic blip in history will end has heightened anxiety and anger, fear and despair, loneliness and sorrow. 

Having journeyed through the other five, I find myself on the sorrow end of the spectrum these past few weeks. And running helps lift the sorrow from my shoulders. It’s how I self-medicate…along with my morning 300mg of generic Wellbutrin, a schedule so packed it leaves no room for process and an evening glass of Pinot. (Yes, I’m a flawed, sometimes depressed and happily medicated yoga teacher who enjoys a sip of wine at the end of her day. I’m human.)

But there’s a part of me who, after my little tumble, has become afraid to run. I’m trying to decide if it’s because falling hurts or because I’ve become older and believe it’s time to set aside the things I loved when I was younger.

I know that’s silly. Running gives me more than a tumble could ever take away. Running at dawn is just the best. The sound of my feet hitting pavement and finding rhythm with my breath is like meditation. Knowing that my bones and muscles will complain and then slip into gentle compliance is pure and joyful medicine for my soul.

Why would I ever stop? 

During this extraordinary time some of us are baking sourdough bread. Some of us are Marie Kondo-ing their lives and ridding themselves of things that don’t ‘spark joy’. Others are taking up new creative hobbies while still more are becoming creative thinkers as they chart a new course for their lives.

What are you doing?

I’m running.