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Healing Grief Through Yoga: A Workshop on 9/12/15 with Ally Hamilton and Claire Bidwell Smith

August 22, 2015

Transform your grief process in this yoga workshop led by yoga teacher Ally Hamilton and grief therapist Claire Bidwell Smith. Grief is a time for slowing down and learning to be present to our bodies and our process. Grief also requires great compassion and conscious awareness. Yoga can help us get in touch with those realms. Through various poses, meditations and breath-work we will help you find grounded space in your grief journey and work towards healing. You’ll leave with tools to help you through those times when you feel overwhelmed or alone, so that you can comfort yourself and come back to center. Whether you’re going through a grieving process for a loved one, or you’re moving through the loss of a relationship, a job, a beloved pet, or a way of being that is no longer serving you, we want to offer support.

CAT Headshotlaire Bidwell Smith is a therapist specializing in grief and the author of two books of nonfiction: The Rules of Inheritance and After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go? both published by Penguin. Claire has a bachelor’s degree from The New School University, and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University. She teaches numerous workshops around the country and has written for various publications including The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Slate, Chicago Public Radio, The Guardian and BlackBook Magazine. Claire currently works in private practice in Los Angeles. www.clairebidwellsmith.com

allylaughingcolorjvkAlly Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher, writer and life coach, who streams online yoga classes all over the world. She’s the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com, which has been featured in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She’s a regular contributor for The Huffington Post, a wellness expert at MindBodyGreen, and writes an almost-daily blog at blog.yogisanonymous.com. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle. She’s very excited about her first book, “Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth and Peace” due from Llewellyn Worldwide in 2016.

Workshop details: This workshop is open to all. If you’ve never done yoga, or you are an experienced practitioner, this is for you. A very gentle flow followed by lots of restorative hip and heart-openers, breath-work, and meditation.

When: Saturday, September 12th 6-7:30pm

Where: Yogis Anonymous

1221 2nd Street (Suite 150)

Santa Monica, CA 90405

Parking: There is a public parking structure right next door. First 90 minutes free, $1 for the next hour.

Price: $50 per person

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The Double-Edged Sword of Attachment

August 19, 2015

When-we-were-children-weRecently, my dear old dad was visiting from North Carolina. I don’t see him as much as I’d like to because of the distance, but we make the most of the time we have, and the visits are frequent enough that my kids know and adore their grandpa. They’re also infrequent enough that he really sees the leaps in growth for both kids, and I notice the changes he’s going through acutely, as well.

On this last trip, we went to the beach. It was a hot day, and I knew my kids would love to swim in the ocean and build sandcastles, and I figured my dad wouldn’t mind sticking his toes in the water, either. My dad is eighty-eight. He’s got the brainpower he’s always had, but the body is slowing down. He also spent years running six miles a day on the streets of New York City, so the knees are not what they once were. But he works out every morning, looks fit and strong, and still has that spark in his eye. Anyway, we drove to the beach instead of walking, because I knew the hill on the way home would be too much. Also, he’d just talked to me about the particulars of his will, and other things he thought I ought to know about his wishes when the time comes. That’s where we’re at now. It’s not some conceptual thing that might happen in the distant future, it’s a reality, and we both know it. I mean, my great Aunt Tess lived to 103 and was sharp as a whip until her final exhale, so I’m not counting him out. It’s just, you have to start to accept the inevitable at some point. We don’t last in the bodies we have forever and ever. And we’ll all be lucky if we make it to eighty-eight. It’s not like we can ever take anything for granted, including tomorrow. But we do it all the time. So anyway, we drove to the beach.

When we got there, I laid out a blanket, and my kids took off for the water. My dad and I followed. He was wearing shorts, not a bathing suit, so we went knee-deep, but the waves were splashing and he was getting a little wetter than he wanted, so we decided to back up a little. When my dad turned around, he lost his footing and couldn’t recover, and I watched him fall onto his side. I could see he was upset and disconcerted and maybe even a little afraid. I wasn’t sure if I should reach out and pull him up, or let him get up on his own, because he also seemed embarrassed. It’s a difficult thing to have your body betray you, and to have yourself laid out in front of your kid. But the waves kept coming and the sand was soft and uneven, and I could see that he needed help to get up, and that he was willing to receive it, so I put my hands under his arms like I’ve done for my kids a million times, and we got him back to standing. I could feel his heart racing and his body shaking.

He held onto my arm until we were back on the blanket. When I sat down next to him, he said, “Well, that was my act for the day.” And he told me that his balance has been off since he had emergency pacemaker surgery a few years ago. I was grateful neither of my kids had seen, because I think they would have been scared. For me, I just felt sad. My dad has never been a “false bravado” kind of guy; he’s always been honest with me about his struggles, and when I was little, it was way too much. I know he has regrets about that. I see the way he is with my kids, and I know if he had some things to do over again as a father, he’d do them differently. I also know he loves me to pieces. We’ve been through all that, and have nothing left to clear up, which is a gift and a relief. You don’t want to feel you’ve left things unsaid or unresolved. My dad of today is not my dad of yesteryear.

I think this is an important point, because so many people get stuck in a time warp and feed their rage, which doesn’t leave any room for change or growth, and doesn’t allow the space for something new to emerge. You are not the same you of five years ago, and five years from now, the you you are today will have evolved and shifted in ways you can’t imagine. The same is true for anyone. I know so many people who are grown adults, still blaming their parents for their unhappiness. Here’s the reality: some people should not have children because they don’t have the emotional tools, patience, maturity and resilience for it. That doesn’t mean you have to hate them and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be here, shining in all your glory. It just means you may have some serious work to do to get from there to here. So that’s your work. Is that “fair”? No. It’s just what is, and you might as well deal with it, and get yourself whatever support you need to work it out. Because it won’t be that long before you’ve fallen in the ocean and can’t get up.

I think the main thing is to live your life in a way that you can feel at peace about it when you’re eighty-eight. We are all going to make mistakes, some huge and some small. The best thing I know to do is to acknowledge the mistakes when you make them, to examine what happened that resulted in your not showing up the way you wanted to, so you can do it differently the next time. It’s not about not making mistakes, it’s about making better mistakes as you go. And also, you can always try to mend fences when possible. Not everyone will be open to forgiveness. You can’t force it, and if someone won’t meet you halfway, that’s how it is. But change does happen and some people do learn, and do shift, and do want to fix things and grow beauty out of pain. I’m not saying you have to let them. Some things are unforgivable. There are certainly instances where you have to create and maintain boundaries for your own well-being. But those are extreme cases.

Lastly, we should all remember to say what’s in our hearts. Sometimes it’s tempting to think we can wait until it feels easier, or to put things off because we’re busy or immersed in our own lives. But you can’t take anyone for granted, at any age. The vulnerability of being human is just built into the experience. Fighting that, denying it, or ignoring it won’t make it go away, it’ll just exhaust you. Better to open your heart, your hands and your mind, and love the people in your life with everything you’ve got. Better to have the hard conversations that touch the raw places so you create an environment where healing can occur. Better to slow down, and appreciate the beauty, the gifts and the love, because they don’t last forever. Sending you love, as always, Ally Hamilton

The Danger of Shiny Packages

July 31, 2015

be-easy-take-your-timeRecently, I was at the grocery store with my kids, and my son asked if he could have a green juice he saw on the shelf. It was made by a company with shiny packaging, that purports to be all about good health, and natural ingredients. I pulled it down and looked at the back of the bottle, and my eyes popped out of my head: 53 grams of sugar. Even my son, who’s eight, did not need an explanation about why we weren’t going to buy it. Instead, we talked about critical thinking and not taking things at face value. And then we went home and made our own green juice.

The juice got me to thinking about a friend of mine who’s going through some heartbreak. She was dating a man for the last eight months. Kind of a whirlwind thing, and also a case of good packaging. They moved in together after eight weeks of heated dating, and she was sure he was “the one.” He was charming and kind and attentive and great-looking, and it seemed they had a good thing going. Until one of our mutual friends called to tell her he was active on Tinder, and had tried to make a date with her. So now my friend is crashing at her parents’ house and looking for a place to live, and beating herself up.

The thing is, most of us have done this, romantically or otherwise. We make quick decisions based on how things look or seem, but when it comes to people, or situations, or even juice, you really have to take your time. Not everything is as it appears to be.

Some of the things that cloud our vision the most are our own wants, projections and assumptions. If you’re longing for connection, for example, and you meet someone who’s attractive to you, you may find yourself diving in and projecting all these wonderful traits on a person you really don’t know. You don’t know someone after a week, or two, or even six. If we’re talking about romance, you REALLY don’t know, because nothing blinds us like hormones. You have to wait for the lust/dust to clear a little before you have any sense of who you’re dealing with, and even then, it takes time. Also, most people can do the beginning of relationships well. I mean, it’s not hard, right? Spending time with someone you’re nuts about, getting naked, and having lots of great sex? Not too many people are going to feel burdened or challenged by that! And those long conversations deep into the night, when neither of you cares about having to get up early in the morning. The touch of his hand, the look in her eye, the flirty texts. Even people who have a deep fear of intimacy can usually do the beginning pretty well. You know why, right? It’s not really intimate yet. You can get physically naked with someone and not really know who they are. You can confide your past disappointments, your struggles, your fears, your hopes and your dreams, and still not know someone, not deeply. Most people lead with their best foot. Most people are not going to tell you about their darkest issues in the beginning, because they are digging the high off your adoration, just like you’re digging the high off theirs. No one wants to burst that bubble. We all like to have a clean slate, a chance to begin again, an opportunity to see ourselves the way this new person is seeing us.

You get to know people slowly, whether we’re talking about new friends, or romantic partners. Of course we love to pin things down and make our plans and think about the future, and that’s okay, that’s human. But the truth is, we never know what’s coming next, and the best thing any of us can do is know ourselves, and stay centered. You don’t have to decide how you feel about everything right off the bat. You can give yourself a little breathing room, and allow things, people, and situations to unfold. You don’t have to decide “this is it!”, and you don’t have to decide “this isn’t it.” You can just enjoy and pay attention and see.

“Viveka”, or discernment, is a huge part of the yoga practice. Recognizing what is real from what is not real, what is permanent versus what is impermanent. Solitude is part of being human. You’ll spend more time with your internal dialogue, occupying the vast world of your innermost space, than you will with anyone else. People will only have access to that interior world to the extent that you allow, and the same holds true for others. You will only know anyone to the extent that they give you access. Some people guard the deepest sanctuary of their inner world out of fear. It might be fear of rejection, it might be fear of intimacy, it might be the fear of losing one’s freedom. The point is, people are complicated, therefore situations involving people are doubly complicated. We all bring so much to the mix, and most of it is not on the surface. There are mysteries everywhere. To think you can figure it all out by skimming the top is a sure way to get bitten in the ass, and probably hard. Take your time with people. And take your time with juice, too. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

You Have to “Like” Yourself

July 21, 2015

You-cannot-save-peopleIf you’ve ever tried to save another person from his or her pain, then you already know it can’t be done. You cannot divorce a person from his past; whatever we’ve been through is going to shape us, and have an effect on the way we look at, and move through the world. If we come from a stable and loving background where we felt secure and celebrated, we’re probably going to have an easier time dealing with life’s difficult surprises, rejections and losses. But there are some things that are so knifing, it really doesn’t matter what your background was. You’re going to have to walk through the fire.

I think the large majority of people are going to struggle, and I say this because it’s rare for two healthy, happy people to come together out of love, and to remember to appreciate the gifts as they roll in every day. I’m not saying this doesn’t exist, I’m just saying I don’t believe it’s very common. They teach us about fractions in school, we spend time figuring out what happens if a train leaves Baltimore at 7:50am, traveling 40mph, and another leaves New York City at 8:20pm going 30mph, but we don’t learn about the human heart. We don’t have classes that teach us about healthy relationships, and how to be a good partner. Most people develop their skill set with on-the-job training, and that doesn’t always work out so well. If you didn’t have exposure to healthy, happy relationships growing up, if you don’t have a model for that, then you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and it’s likely you’ll have a bumpy ride.

The point is, if we come out of pain, dysfunction, confusion and instability, it’s probably going to take some time for us to find our center. And if we start having intimate relationships while we’re still totally in the dark about who we are, they aren’t likely to go well. If you were born into a situation with two people who didn’t know how to love each other well, and also didn’t do a bang-up job loving you well…welcome to the human race. I believe you’re in the majority.

On top of your own personal history, there’s the vulnerability inherent in this gig called being human. And not everyone deals with the uncertainty of this thing very well. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes explosions go off in the middle of our lives because we set them off, and other times, this happens because we lose someone unexpectedly, or we lose a job, or some other totally unforeseen thing happens. What defines us is how we deal with what we’re given. Sometimes people flail about or point fingers or develop constructs that support the idea that it isn’t their fault, whatever “it” may be. Sometimes people numb out, deny reality, or run like hell. Sometimes people are so self-destructive, you just can’t watch anymore.

The thing is, you can’t do the journey for anyone else. You can’t do it for your children or your parents or your siblings or your best friend. We all have to man up and woman up and and get serious about healing. You can’t be of any real good to anyone else if you’re miserable. You can’t blame your parents if you’re 40 and unhappy. I mean, you can, but it won’t get you anywhere you want to be.

What can you do if someone you love is hurting? You can offer your support and encouragement of course. You can learn to say less and listen more, and just be there with your love. You can reflect back to them the incredible beauty you see. You can try to find them resources so they can start to take ownership of their pain and their happiness. But you can’t fix it for them. It’s torturous to watch someone we love as they flail or doubt or fear or cling. When people have a hole they’re trying to fill, whether they try to fill it with fame or adoration or things or food or sex or they try to numb it out so the ache is less intense, there’s nothing much you can do except to tell them again and again, the only thing that fills that hole is love. And it isn’t love from other people, although that’s wonderful, it’s love from within. Sending you some right now, Ally Hamilton

Surprise!

June 28, 2015

A-mind-is-like-aLife always has plenty of surprises in store for us. We make our plans, and then, BAM! Something totally unforeseen happens. Sometimes these are good surprises–perhaps we meet someone who amazes us in every way, on a random Tuesday when we were just going about our business. Other times they’re challenging–we lose a job, or even worse, a whole person. We are given opportunities to practice for the unexpected every day, so that when the big twists and turns come, we aren’t knocked over by life.

The birth of anything is the death of something else. Each moment comes to an end so a new moment can arise. We contract against change, we fear the unknown, and yet, this is the one constant in life: everything is always in a state of flux. Things change, people change, our feelings change, the seasons change, you have already changed while reading this.

I try to experience the unwelcome surprises in my life as invitations to open and breathe. I don’t always succeed, of course, but I try. And I’m grateful to my yoga practice for that, because that’s less time spent suffering. There is always something to learn, and there’s no doubt challenge helps us grow. That doesn’t mean we have to be grateful for everything that happens along the way; some things will rip your heart out of your chest and bring you to your knees. But always, we have the opportunity to learn and evolve and open.

There is no pain-free birthing process, whether we’re birthing a person into this world, or we’re struggling toward a new way of being. Let the pain open you. Pause, breathe, acknowledge. When you’re ready, get up. There’s a lot of beauty in life. This is why we don’t want to resist the difficult parts. What we resist, persists, as the saying goes. Persist in love. Life feels better that way. Sending you some right now, and wishing you strength, grace and ease as you open to the surprises around the corner, Ally Hamilton

A Matter of Degree

June 21, 2015

Find-a-place-insideLife is complicated and messy sometimes. It doesn’t take much to land yourself in a challenging set of circumstances; one poor choice is often all it takes. But the reality is, we all have our stuff. Some people have more than others, but I know very few people who get through 80-100 years without some serious difficulty along the way. In fact, I don’t know anyone.

What we’re talking about is degree. Break-ups are painful. Divorce is harder. Divorce with children is even more devastating. This is not to say that a heartbreak where there wasn’t a marriage is not brutal. This is not a contest about who wins the prize for suffering the most, because who would want that award? The reason divorce is harder than your average break up is because you have so many people to tell. You’ve stood up in front of everyone you know and you’ve taken vows. Now you have to acknowledge to yourself and everyone else that you are not able to keep the promises you made, and that hurts. In most cases, you’ve asked people to make a huge effort on your behalf—to travel so they can bear witness to this big decision you’ve made, to drop whatever is happening in their lives so they can be there for you. There’s a feeling of accountability around it. There are two families involved. Sometimes there’s the merging of money. So there’s your heartbreak, and then there’s all this other stuff, too. With children in the mix, you can take all of that stuff I just mentioned, and add to it your fear that your inability to keep your promise is going to cause pain to the people you love most in the world. Along with a million other things that can happen, and all the complications that arise for everyone when you have to go down that path. Losing people we love because we grow apart or can no longer tolerate certain treatment, or because we’ve had a misunderstanding, will cause us grief. Losing someone through death will cause even more because the possibility of seeing them, holding them, hearing them, touching them…it’s gone. So it’s a matter of degree, and it’s how we’re going to work with the pain. You can make it your enemy, or you can make it your friend and your teacher.

Sometimes situations are hard to navigate because the boundaries are always shifting; what worked at one point no longer does, and the peace we’d found is lost again. So be it. The river flows, and we have to flow with it. The more we contract against our feelings, the more we suffer. The more we deny reality or try to convince ourselves or other people that everything is okay, or we are okay when it isn’t and we aren’t, the more we compound our pain. There’s no pain-free option, so get over that. Pain is part of life, but you don’t have to feed it or help it to grow. If you’re going to feed something, feed love. Life will feel a lot better that way. Sometimes we make mistakes and we’re going to pay the price and that is called growing up. You may not like where you find yourself, but if you can look back and recognize that your actions and choices have landed you where you are, then you can grow from the experience and create something new. Beauty can grow out of pain. Nothing comes from nothing. That’s really the issue. Not whether you’re going to have any issues, but what you’re going to do, or not do about them.

Sometimes the pain comes from the outside. Maybe we love an addict. That’s brutal because addiction takes hostages, and it does not care how kind they are. All I’m saying is that human beings are complex and life is complex and a lot of what determines how much we’re going to suffer, and how much we’re going to be at peace, is nuance, attitude and perseverance. A spiritual practice gives you a foundation, so when times are good you have the tools to receive the gifts and take nothing for granted, and when times are tough you have some ground to stand on in that rain. In between the highs and lows, you also recognize there is no such thing as an ordinary day.

Also, there’s this: nothing comes from nothing, and nothing dies. Before the big bang, there was something. I don’t know what it was, but there was something. It’s the old chicken or the egg question, but it’s one or the other. There was a chicken, or there was an egg. There was something. You might have your birth certificate with the time of your birth stamped as the moment you took your first big inhale, but you existed before that moment. In fact, you’d already had a profound experience, a journey through the birth canal. And before that, you were in your mother’s womb, and in your mother and father before that, and in all your ancestors. You would not exist without them, you were in them, they are in you, and when you die, you will not be nothing, no matter what you believe. If you decide to be buried or cremated, eventually you will become part of the earth, you’ll be watered by the rain, you’ll grow into the trees and into the air and toward the sun. Your soul, if you believe in souls, will go on its own journey. But even if you don’t believe there’s something essential that goes on, you will not be nothing. You can never be nothing. It’s a miracle you’re here, scientific or otherwise, it’s a miracle any of us are here. And I say all this to you, because so much of our trouble comes from our strong identification with the body we’re in, with our names and our jobs and our weight and our hair color, and our huge fear that we are going to die and become nothing. This is why we cling. This is why we struggle and try to control and force. This is why we forget to live sometimes.

So what if you’ve made a mess of it? Most people do at some point. Clean it up, that’s all. You’re here. You have the capacity to love. You’re changing every second, whether you want to or not, so why not change in the ways that are going to help you to heal and thrive? Things do not have to be perfect in order for you to give freely from your heart, and have a positive impact on the world around you. If you wait for things to be perfect, you will spend most of your life waiting, because perfection comes in moments, and they’re easy to miss if you’re stuck in rage and blame and shame, or you’re numbing yourself out. There’s so much love. There’s so much beauty. Your heart can expand and so can your mind. You are not stuck. You are not nothing. You are everything. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Take Down Your Inner Critic

June 1, 2015

Its-hard-to-fight-anIf you’re suffering from self-loathing and a loud inner critic, you’re in the worst kind of prison. You can’t evict your inner voice, so if it’s harsh, shaming and unforgiving, there’s nowhere to run. If you’d categorize the way you’re speaking to yourself as abusive, were you to hear the same words coming from someone else’s mouth, then it’s time to stage a take-down. Because that’s no way to live.

Sometimes we absorb the way we were spoken to growing up. Not everyone is received with love, not everyone is nurtured. Peggy O’Mara has a quote, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that, but it isn’t the whole truth. You may have come from an incredibly loving home, but suffered unkindness at school. Scared and confused children can be mean, as can those who feel powerless at home. Events may have occurred that made you doubt yourself, or question your ideas about your own worth. Sometimes we’re going along just fine, and then we’re completely derailed by a romantic relationship, or an interaction with someone who has power over us, and it’s a game-changer.

Other times, we learn and we grow and we look back and feel intense shame for certain choices we made, or ways we let ourselves or others down. There are all kinds of reasons that voice in our head can become critical and unrelenting. Coming out of abuse is another one. Feeling like love is conditional and can be withdrawn at any time will also do it, because any time you fail to meet your own unrealistic expectations of perfection, you’ve set yourself up for the punishing sting of pain and disappointment. There are all kinds of ways we can betray our own tender hearts.

The thing is, in order to shine and to share, you have to have some belief in yourself. And to be straight with you, not believing in yourself is the worst kind of hubris. It’s not a level playing field, but we’ve all been given the gift of a body, some time here on earth, and the ability to love deeply. Squandering those gifts is the equivalent of hijacking your experience here. You can look back and rant and rave and point fingers. You can write a dissertation about why you are the way you are, and why it isn’t your fault, but time will keep on ticking. And you can’t have it back.

We all make mistakes. We’ve all suffered loss to some degree or another, along with heartache, grief, regret, fear, confusion, shame, doubt and longing. If we’re lucky, we’ve also tasted joy and gratitude, love, kindness and connection. It’s a mixed bag here on planet earth, but it’s a wildly interesting ride. Getting bogged down in rage is no way to travel. There are so many tools available, so many paths of liberation, so many ways to enjoy the gifts we’ve been given. You really don’t want to rob yourself of all the beauty available here.

How do you starve an inner critic and feed a loving voice? I’m sure there are many tools, but the ones I’ve tested personally are the physical yoga practice, and seated meditation. There’s a saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything”, and I believe that to be the truth. If you’re critical of yourself out in the world, the same will hold true when you’re on your yoga mat. But if you stick with it and make it about breathing deeply and consciously, and not about how you look or what’s happening around you, a miraculous thing will happen. You’ll start to take the road marked “Inward”, so you can take a look around and start dealing with anything that isn’t serving you. You can start to observe yourself from the inside out, and build the muscle called compassion. You can work on the quality of patience. You can calm your nervous system with your breath. You can create enough space between your thoughts to get a taste of something called peace. And you can develop the ability to witness your tendencies, your thoughts and your feelings. You can start to recognize that you don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You can start to choose better thoughts. Over time, you can feed a loving voice so it grows and strengthens and takes over your life. It just takes work and determination. Feel free to reach out if you need a little nudge. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

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