No Mud, No Lotus

 

lotusThere’s a physical cue in the yoga practice, “root down to rise up”, and if you practice yoga, you’ve probably heard it. Whatever is touching the mat, whether it’s your feet, your forearms, your hands or your head, that is your foundation. You are asked to find the strength at your root, and rise up out of it.

It’s also an emotional and energetic cue. How can I rise up if the ground beneath me is shifting, and I can’t find my footing? Life offers up opportunities to work on this all the time! Personally, we might be going through crisis, or dealing with circumstances that seem incomprehensible, and we might also be dealing with that globally, as a culture.

There’s also the beautiful metaphor of the lotus flower, which grows in mud and muck, but rises up out of it to become this gorgeous, blossoming flower. Whether we’re dealing with personal muck, or global muck, that is the question. How am I going to find my ground and rise up out of this? How am I going to offer something of myself that will be of use? Yoga practice tells us to go inside. It asks us not to allow our shine to dim based on external events, but rather to find the shine within, and then spread it. No one defines what you can or cannot do but you. People may try to shut you down or scare you into silence, or force you to accept ideas that are reprehensible to you, but you do not have to allow that, and you do not have to be quiet.

When you don’t know what to do, be the light. Sending you all a ton of love. So grateful for your shine,

Ally Hamilton

What to Do When You Feel Really Vulnerable

standthereAh, vulnerability. Sometimes it stuns you and brings you into a state of gratitude for being able to love so deeply, and sometimes it makes you want to run screaming from the room. I am often stunned into gratitude by my children, and the way that I love them, and the way that I am humbled in the face of that love. If you’ve been on this planet for any length of time, then you know that you do not call the shots, you do not get to decide what life is going to put in your path, or the paths of those you cherish. You know that the parameters are outside of your domain, you get no insight into the number of days or years you have here, and the same holds true for everyone you hold dear, and my god, if that does not make you acknowledge your own fragility, I don’t know what will. I’m usually inspired by that. I really try to leave nothing in the tank on any given day, and by that I mean I try to make sure the people in my life know how I feel about them without any doubt by the time I put my head on the pillow. That’s a day well spent.

I share anything I’ve learned along the way that might be useful (and was often learned as the result of a poor choice that led to a painful lesson), and even the stuff that is messy or not quite figured out yet, because I think we all feel better when we realize we are not alone in this thing. I am not drawn toward people who try to wrap things up in a neat little package because life is not neat, humans are not neat, and many of the things we feel cannot be tied up with a ribbon and deposited in the “isn’t this grand?” file. I want to know what your mess is, what your fears are, what keeps you up at night, or stuck in a job or relationship that’s crushing the soul out of you, because we have all been there, and when we talk about this stuff, it’s a relief; we realize everyone is human. Otherwise everyone walks around feeling alienated, like they’re the only loser who can’t seem to get this life thing “right.” When you lay your stuff on the table, you see it’s the same stuff everyone else unpacks, it’s just got your own fingerprints on it, your own particular spin. Think you aren’t worthy of love, that there’s something essentially broken about you? Yeah, I’ve been there. Think there are things that you’ve done that are so shameful you have to keep them hidden, even from your closest friends? I’ve also been there. Know what happens when you edit yourself because you’re afraid of what people might think? You feel like a fraud. I’ve been there, too.

Maybe you’re enraged and you feel like your pain is someone else’s fault, but that’s going to keep you stuck. You’re better off making friends with your pain, and dwelling less on how you accrued it. Regardless of whose fault it is, your pain can teach you a lot about who you are and what you need to be at peace. Nothing brings your pain and fear to the surface like an intimate relationship. When you start to get close to another person, when you start to share in a real way, in a deep way, in an unguarded way, you give that person the roadmap to hurt you if they wish. So you want to be careful about the people you draw close because your heart is precious and you don’t want to be reckless with it, any more than you’d want someone you love to be reckless with theirs. You cannot get close to people if you won’t drop your guard. This applies to friendships, familial relationships, and romantic ones, which tend to be the most triggering.

Self-study is part of the yoga practice, and it’s at the heart of any spiritual practice. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t be accountable for the things you do and say; you won’t know what’s driving you. Even if you do that work, it doesn’t mean your stuff won’t come up, it just means you’ll have the insight to recognize when it’s happening, and the tools to deal with it and sit with it, instead of acting out and having to clean up the messes behind you, if and when you can. You save yourself a lot of heartache when you can lean into your discomfort instead of trying to deny it, run from it, or numb it out.

I’m having one of those days today. Feeling weird about a situation in my life and like I want to jump out of my body for a little while, because I am just so uncomfortable. But since I can’t jump out of my body, I’ve just been trying to be kind to myself all day, and stay focused on everything that is beautiful and wonderful in my life, which is a lot, while also giving myself permission to feel confused and unsettled. Part of me can laugh a little because for f&ck’s sake, I’m not eighteen, and I’ve been through this so many times it’s not new territory. Getting close to someone new, or even thinking about doing that takes guts and a willingness to wait and see, and sometimes that is really hard, walking that line. Letting your guard down, but not too much. Feeling things out, and keeping your eyes open. Trying not to control the outcome, but just letting it unfold, and then watching as all your “friends” come out to wreak a little havoc. Fear of Abandonment wants to play hopscotch! Fear of Rejection just sat down on the couch and wants to have tea! Fear of Commitment wants to take a spin on the dance floor! Defensive Debbie thinks coffee with someone else is a fine idea, because screw this vulnerability thing! I just have to laugh and shake my head and feel thankful that I have a yoga practice and a meditation practice, and the ability to distance myself from my thoughts so I can look at them without necessarily believing them. Time solves most mysteries. People show you who they are, you just have to be willing to see them. When you feel vulnerable, the best thing to do is sit with that feeling. If you struggle with that, try this. It works for me!

Sending you lots of love, and a little chuckle. We humans are funny, aren’t we?

Ally Hamilton

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WTF

ephronI’ll be honest, this week kicked my ass! Sunday, my son sprained his ankle, so Monday he stayed home from school and we went to the doctor. Monday afternoon, my daughter spiked a fever and vomited (good times), so Tuesday she stayed home, and we went back to the doctor. Wednesday, she had to have a (harmless) cyst removed from her neck, which meant a needle in her neck, screaming, and a total nervous system response for mom, even though I kept us both breathing deeply the whole time. Also, in case you’re counting, that was the third trip to the doctor in as many days. Also, teaching, making meals, packing lunches, doing laundry, playing chaffeur, trying to tend to my next (book) baby, and y’know, attempting to squeeze in a personal life, get my eyebrows waxed, find time for my yoga, meditation and rowing every day so I don’t lose my mind, and I think you get the picture. So a little crazier than usual, but every week is an attempt to show up with the best of myself for myself, and all the people in my life, which makes me no different than anyone else.

Sometimes I teach standing pigeon in class, and some people lean their butts against the wall, and some people balance in the middle of the room, and others take flying pigeon. So everyone is in a balancing hip opener, it isn’t a question of the shape they make, it’s a matter of their state of mind and attitude while they’re in the shape they’re making. This is why I see no difference between yoga and life. How are we showing up? What tools work, what are the ways we can support our process and nurture and strengthen ourselves in the midst of this often crazy life, when our plans get turned on their heads regularly? How do we find time for ourselves when there are so many places we need to be, and people we want to love? How do we stoke that creative fire so we feel fulfilled? What do we do when we feel intensely vulnerable (I’ve been feeling a LOT of that lately).

I’m about to do an online course with one of the amazing women in my life, Jennifer Pastiloff. It’s called On Being Women, and if these are the kinds of questions you grapple with, take a look, and feel free to forward to any of your female friends who might also like or need some support right now. Here’s where you register.

So much love to you,

Ally Hamilton

How to Use Stress and Pressure as Motivation

pressureCulturally, we’ve had a conversation going on for quite awhile about the ill-effects of stress, but new research suggests that it’s our relationship with stress that causes the problems, and not stress itself. This is something I’ve suspected for a long time, because in my own life, I thrive when the heat is on. I like a little pressure, a deadline, a reason to show up. I don’t know if it’s the Type A in me, but I have always been this way. In college, I’d write papers in my head, but wouldn’t put them on paper until the day before they were due, so I could feel that tiny bit of frenzy. I think sometimes that just the right amount of that brings out the magic.

Today, I experience it in a different way. I write when my kids are in school. If I don’t get it done then, it isn’t going to happen. The pressure is built-in, but I no longer like to over-extend myself, or say yes when I need to say no. When I wrote the last book, I turned in the final draft two weeks ahead of schedule. Leaving things until the last minute is not appealing at this point in my life. I think a lot of our distress results from how we deal with pressure, and not the pressure itself.

Sometimes we’re suffering from pressure that we take on from our own expectations. We might think we “should” be able to give our all at work, and at home, and still find time to exercise, cook a great meal, nurture our friendships, and make sure the house is spotless. Sometimes you really have to pick your battles. Check yourself around the word “should”, because that’s a word that creates a lot of pain. Should you be happy around the holidays? Should your family of origin be able to sit around the table without anyone ending up in tears, or three sheets to the wind? Should everything look like a Norman Rockwell painting? I mean, all of that would be nice, but that doesn’t mean it’s in the cards.

You might remember that diamonds are made by high heat and lots of pressure. It’s good to think about where the pressure you feel is originating. Is it coming from within you, from your own thinking, or is it coming from your environment, partner, family, friends, or society at large? Are there things you’re feeling pressured about that you could put in your DGAF column? Are you overly worried about what other people will think if you drop your need to show up in a particular way?

I always think a great question is, “Who am I going to be in this situation?” because it puts you in the power seat. Instead of feeling victimized or overwhelmed, you get to think about what is being asked of you, whether it’s reasonable, and how you want to respond. Ultimately, I’d get very selective about the things you’re going to prioritize, because your time and energy are finite. When possible, I try to have a sense of humor about feeling the heat. If something doesn’t get done (or something doesn’t get done “perfectly”), is the world going to end? If you don’t show up the way someone else wants you to, but you’re at peace with yourself, isn’t that enough? If someone is going to judge you, have they lost sight of what it means to love you? Most of the stuff we freak out about is really meaningless. If you can take those things off your list, you’ll free up energy for the stuff that truly matters.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

If you need help shifting negative thought patterns, try this!

Let’s Not Give Up on Each Other

eachotherThe last few days have been painful in our country, but in all fairness, for many people the pain has been real and heartbreaking for years. I needed a couple of days to process, because I was shocked by the result of our election on Tuesday, and in that shock, I needed time to recognize and think about  my own ignorance. When half the country votes in a way you never saw coming, you understand you have been out of touch with a huge segment of the population.

 

 

I am not confused about the pain in our country, and I was not unaware of it. Rampant gun violence, black men being shot by the police, women being paid $.80 for every dollar a man makes, I mean, you have to be asleep to miss the fact that we are not living as the country we purport to be. This is not the land of the free, everyone is not equal, and working your ass off does not mean you are going to realize the American dream, or even guarantee health insurance or a college education for yourself or your family. People are tired and angry and frustrated. Many feel unrepresented, disenfranchised, and enraged.

 

This election season has been the ugliest I’ve ever lived through; I have never seen anything like it, and hope I never do again. As a country, we embarrassed ourselves on the world stage. The level of conversation was so low, it is hard to fathom how it could have dropped any lower. In my view, the hatred, rage and fear that were enflamed were done so intentionally. There’s plenty of it out there, I just did not realize how much, and that is the part that has shocked me and broken my heart. I think a lot of people feel the system is broken, Washington is owned by rich people who don’t give a shit about them, and all politicians are liars and cheats. It seems half the country felt the best idea was to send in somebody from outside the system to blow things up from the inside. I really get that, I just don’t believe this was the right somebody. I understand frustration. I understand distrust, we all do. The problem for me is many-fold.

 

Hate speech against minorities and women is absolutely never okay in my book. Ever. That is not leadership, that is bigotry, racism, sexism and misogyny. When you rile people up in that way, when you feed on the worst in us, you never bring out the best. The people who feel heartbroken right now are heartbroken about that, it isn’t even the political piece. The people who are afraid right now are the people who have been watching and listening to the kind of speech that makes us all wonder what is going to happen now. Whose rights are going to be violated, or taken away completely? We were already in trouble, and now we wonder, can this person who said such hateful things about so many of us, any of us who aren’t white Christian men, possibly bring our torn country together again? Or shall we prepare ourselves to watch everything we hold dearest go up in flames?

 

It is too easy to label anyone who voted differently than you as crazy or ignorant. I know it’s tempting. I understand some of us are absolutely flabbergasted, but what’s vitally important to grasp, is that the people who voted differently feel the same way about you. They cannot fathom how you don’t see what they see. They cannot understand why you don’t feel the way they feel. When we don’t even try to understand, to find a thread of commonality, we’re lost to each other. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t feel your fear. I feel it. I’m concerned about our Supreme Court. I’m worried that the hate speech we heard will become commonplace. I am scared for my children, especially my daughter. My son is a white, blonde, blue-eyed kid, and he cried his eyes out Tuesday night. It hurt me to see my child affected that way, but it also gave me hope. His tears were not political, his tears were emotional. He has friends at school who are worried their parents are going to be deported while they’re playing handball at recess. He understands compassion already, at ten. He does not understand racism or sexism or bullying, it makes no sense to him, or to my daughter, and I hope it never does. His tears pained me, but they also comforted me, and that’s the first time my child’s tears have ever done that. We need the next generations to come up and fix the things we’ve gotten so wrong.

 

I know we want to point fingers and lay blame and separate ourselves from each other. The Canadian immigration website crashed Tuesday night. I saw many people posting about Australia. I, myself, thought maybe now would be a good time to go to Ireland, which has been singing a siren song to me for years. Calexit was looking good to me. The truth is, though, I would never leave right now. We need to stay and work this out, and we will not get there in fear. We will not get there by labeling half our country as insane. We will not get there by only worrying about our own families and our own lives. We are each other’s keepers and we have not been doing a good job. We have not been hearing each other, but my God, we are hearing each other now. Don’t scream into the void. Don’t join the hatred and rage. Try not to label and villainize people, it won’t help anyone. Try to understand, try to listen, try to hope. Take action where you can, and where you feel called to do so. Fight for the things that are meaningful to you, speak out whenever you see someone or something that insults your soul. Treat your neighbor as the family member she is. Understand that we are one people on one planet, and no one can change that or take that from us. Where you don’t understand that, pause and reflect. You get to decide how you’re going to rise up in this situation, and who you’re going to be. We’ve had dark days in our country before, and we will get through this together.

 

Sending you love, and a big hug,

 

Ally Hamilton

 

If you need help coming back to center, try these classes:

https://yogisanonymous.com/videos/meditation-intro-to-meditation-ally-hamilton-2586

https://yogisanonymous.com/videos/meditation-complete-breath-for-peace-john-sahakian-3097

https://yogisanonymous.com/videos/meditation-blessing-of-connection-sifu-matthew-cohen-2880

How Does Yoga Help You Get Rid Of Jealousy (FOR GOOD)?

williampennJealousy is nothing more than an expression of fear and an acknowledgment of vulnerability. It’s the fear that we aren’t enough, that someone else may be “more” in some way; it’s the fear that something or someone we cherish can be taken from us. These are human fears and insecurities, and they’re normal, but the way this emotion manifests itself tends to lead to unhealthy thinking and behavior.

Yoga is a practice of coming home to yourself. It’s a process of dropping anything you may have taken on that really doesn’t belong to you, like ideas about yourself or other people, or the world at large, or ways of being that aren’t serving you. It’s a daily choice to tune in and see what’s happening within you, to look at your raw, sometimes jagged places with compassion, patience and honesty, and to be accountable when your fears get the better of you.

When I started practicing yoga at twenty, I had very low self-esteem. I was often anxious or depressed, I had frequent, intense, debilitating migraines, disordered eating, and poor body image. When I entered relationships, I never put myself, or my needs or wants into the equation, I focused solely on the other person, and tried to figure out how I could be “perfect” or indispensable so that I would not have to worry about being betrayed or abandoned. Guess what happens when you enter relationships that way, with a sense that you are broken, or somehow not enough, and that your job is to bend over backwards to manipulate the outcome you want? They don’t go very well!

Here are three observations about how yoga helps you overcome jealousy for good:

1. You learn to love, honor and value yourself.

There are seven billion people on this planet, but only one you. No one else can ever be you, and that is incredible and amazing. Once you understand that, you won’t worry about not being enough. You won’t come from a place of lack and fear, instead, you will understand that you are unique, valuable, precious. This is something that happens over time, as you show up on your mat every day, and start responding to your body with care and consideration. It could be that right now, you aren’t very kind to your body. Maybe you have terrible thoughts about it, but the truth is, your body is your home, it’s where you live. Yoga is a listening practice. You listen with curiosity, your respond with kindness. Over time, that caring about yourself will follow you off your mat.

2. You start to recognize the folly of control.

You will never get what you want by forcing. If you force poses on your mat, you’re going to get hurt. If you force situations in your life, guess what? You’re going to get hurt. True love is never the result of force, manipulation, or an unwillingness to see and accept reality as it is. You might start your practice by forcing poses, or making it all about whether you can do tricky arm balances and inversions, but over time, you will understand it’s not about the poses, it’s about your process. It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels. If it feels “off”, you’ll back off. Once you grasp in your body that forcing things leads to injury, you’ll stop doing that in your life as well. If you are so insecure in your relationship with yourself and other people, romantic partners, close friends and so on, you’ll begin to understand that you need to explore the source of your feelings that you don’t measure up, rather than acting them out all over the place.

3. Sometimes we’re feeling jealous because a friend is achieving success that we want.

That’s such an awful feeling, when you cannot be happy for someone else’s good fortune. When that happens for you, the best thing to do is to get that person in your mind, and wish them well. Their success has nothing to do with you, it will not prevent you from succeeding, because no one can take up your place in the sun. No one else is you. Sometimes jealousy rears its head in romantic relationships, where one partner is checking the other’s texts, emails, pockets. This is death for a relationship. Every time you do something like that, you hammer another nail in the coffin. If there’s no trust, it will never, ever work. If you always pick partners who cheat on you, that’s on you. You are going to have to figure out what that pattern is about, and why you’re attracted to people who seem untrustworthy, because there are always flags. Why are you driving by those flags with your arms and legs and heart open? Because you are not valuing yourself. Yoga is a system of getting real with yourself. At a certain point, we all get to a place where we say “enough!” If you are not happy, then your work is to figure out why that is, because your job here is to shine. “Svadhyaya” means self-study. The willingness to understand what’s driving you, so you can go forward making different and better choices.

Yoga is not about standing on your head, or having the most open hamstrings. It’s about understanding that you are a unique strand in a gorgeous mystery, a valuable participant in a huge story, a shining light once you uncover your joy, and the purveyor of gifts only you can bring to this world. Once you get that, you will never be jealous again.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Try this series of classes now:

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How to Stop, Embrace the Moment, and Keep Going

alameddineYesterday as I was driving along Arizona Avenue, something caught my eye. There was a huge, furry spider with red markings that suddenly dropped from behind the window visor, and appeared in the compartment just next to my steering wheel, where you can place your wallet, phone and so on. It was empty but for this sudden tenant. Now, I grew up in New York City, and I freely admit, I’m a little petrified of spiders, have no idea which ones are poisonous, and am especially wary of ones with “fur”, my love for Charlotte’s Web notwithstanding. I know that spiders are amazing, I just don’t particularly want them in my house or car. I remembered that red markings were part of the black widow description, though I felt fairly certain black widows were shiny and not hairy. Nonetheless, I had a mini adrenaline rush, noticed there were cars behind and in front of me, put my blinker on, and moved to the side of the road where I decided it was okay to block a driveway for a moment if it meant saving my life. Yes, you can laugh.

I jumped out of my car and stood staring at this arachnid, wondering how to get it from my car to the street. There were two guys working on the building where I’d pulled up, and I called out to them and asked for help. I told them there was a huge spider in my car. They looked a little bewildered and started walking over, but then I thought, “Really? Do I really need help with this?” I took a look at the passenger seat, grabbed a postcard that was sitting there, and managed to flick the spider onto the card, and then gently fling it onto a bush. Neither of us died, so I consider that a success.

When I got back in my car, I realized this is the second time in a matter of weeks that I’ve dealt with big spiders, as a black furry one with a white back crawled across my desk not long ago. My kids were home, and I instructed them NOT TO MOVE while I caught it in a jar, and took it outside. No one died that time, either. My friend Jessica, who knows all about spiders, had a good laugh at my expense, though, so I also consider that a success. I have this story I tell myself, that if I were married, my husband would be dealing with the big bugs, and he’d also be there to help me unload groceries from the car. I don’t have pity parties for myself very much, but for some reason, those are the two experiences that make me feel sad that there isn’t a man in my life. So yesterday I thought, “those are some really dumb stories you’re carrying around, and maybe it’s time to check them.”

The truth is, many of my married girlfriends have told me that they deal with the big bugs and the groceries, too. Of course, there are other fabulous reasons to have a partner, so don’t get me wrong, I’m just trying to point out that sometimes we tell ourselves things that aren’t true, or that are weakening, or that might have been true at one point, but aren’t anymore.

Here’s another example: a couple of days a go, I taught a benefit class for Breast Cancer Awareness month (ladies, check your boobies!), and you never know who’s going to show up when you teach at these big events. Usually, you’ll see people you’ve known for years, and experienced yogis, along with people who’ve never done yoga before but have come out for a cause. So I’m teaching, and I look up and see this woman front and center, and she’s in Warrior 1, but she’s scrolling on her phone. Lower body in Warrior 1, upper body focused on the device, standing up on her mat. I see a few people around her looking on incredulously, and one woman made eye contact with me. My first reaction was, “Whoa. That is so rude!” I mean, I’ve seen people with their phones next to their mats, surreptitiously checking it in down dog, but this was a new one on me.

Then I looked at the woman, and she just looked sweet, and I thought, “She has no idea that that’s rude, that isn’t where she’s coming from.” Now look, I’m no saint, I’ve just been practicing yoga for twenty-five years, and the good news is, it helps you catch yourself quickly. If you feel triggered, for example, a long, consistent practice teaches you to perk up and pay attention, instead of lashing out and doing or saying something you might regret. It also reminds you that most things are not personal. She wasn’t being rude to me, her behavior had nothing to do with me. So I waited until everyone was in down dog, and went over to her and whispered, “Are you a doctor?” She looked at me in utter confusion and said no. I said, “Okay, I was just wondering if you were ‘on call’ or something, or if you’re dealing with an emergency. Otherwise, why don’t you put your phone away for a little bit so you can have some you time!” And she smiled at me and said, “Oh, okay!”, and put her phone away. After class, she came and thanked me and hugged me. Total win-win.

The thing is, a breathing practice is enormously helpful for this whole “being human” thing, because being human is not always so easy or straightforward. We’re always filtering information from the world around us through our own particular (and sometimes foggy) lenses, and we’re always dealing with our inner worlds as well, which are often full of ideas and thoughts and stories that are specious and worth examining. There’s nothing quite like developing a sense of humor about yourself, and all your occasional absurdities, and celebrating your humanness without embarrassment. Then you can shake your head, and get back to the business of opening to all the beauty around you.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love!

Ally Hamilton

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