Choose Tigger!

Last week in a class I was teaching, I was talking about how the focal points or “drishtis” in the yoga practice are really the difference between having some power over how you respond to what’s happening around you, or not so much. If you have a physical yoga practice, then you already know that there’s a place where you direct your gaze in each pose. It might be over your front fingertips and toward the horizon, as you would in Warrior 2. It might be toward your extended fingertips in side angle pose. The idea is that you’re taking in a little less information from the world around you, so you can spend some time focusing on the world that exists within you, and hopefully practice in a way that creates more peace, steadiness, compassion, patience and awareness, so that when you leave your mat, that’s what you have to offer up.

When you train your mind the way you’d train any muscle, it strengthens. The ability to direct your gaze and thereby your energy and attention is the same skill you use when you have a meal with a close friend in a chaotic restaurant, but manage to focus on your friend, and not all the business happening around you. It’s the same ability you need when you sit down to work on your passion project, and are able to focus on that for a few hours instead of getting on social media. It’s also the tool you use when you actively choose one thought over another, which is like a superpower when it comes to living this life. We all know that change is the only thing we can count on, and yet we tend to resist it to varying degrees. The more we contract against the reality of constant flux, the more we suffer.

Sometimes the voice inside our heads sounds like Eeyore. Things are happening that we don’t like or didn’t want, and there he goes: “Life is hard and no one loves me, and other people get the breaks, but I don’t.” Tigger on the other hand, is full of enthusiasm, and he would say, “Sometimes life is hard, and sometimes people are confusing, but that’s okay! It’s just a tough moment, it isn’t a tough life, and I’ll bounce back from this! What’s for lunch?” In the class I was teaching, I was saying that having an inner Tigger is a lot easier than having an inner Eeyore, and part of shifting and creating a positive inner dialogue has to do with working the focal points on your mat (or during seated meditation). That way, when when your Eeyore pipes up, you notice, and you can say, “Simmer down Eeyore” before he sends you spiraling down an abyss that isn’t going to help you deal with whatever is at hand. The “noticing” is also a key element, because sometimes Eeyore is our default setting, and we don’t even realize we have the power to shift it. Outlook isn’t everything in life; certainly there are devastating and heartbreaking experiences we have, loss that feels incomprehensible, circumstances that would challenge the most optimistic among us, but there is no doubt that working on your general viewpoint so it’s more open and responsive, and less reactive and resistant, is a game-changer.

One of the people in that Eeyore/Tigger class showed up a few days later with a little gift bag, and one of the best cards I’ve ever received. When I opened the bag, this is the shirt I found, which she made for me. If you have a loud inner Eeyore, please allow me to tell you that you can change that (I had one for years!), and that life feels much better that way. If you want to work on it with me, I’m about to teach an online course that’s all about embracing change, you can find out more here: http://blog.yogisanonymous.com/embracing-change-bootcamp/

Sending you love, and a shot of Tigger,

Ally Hamilton

Dissonance

Yoga is a process of getting real with yourself, so you can be at peace. If who you say you are is different than who you’re being in the world, then you know where you have work to do. Ideally, your hunger to deal with reality as it is outweighs your desire to deny, run, or numb out, to pretend things are different than they are, or to cling to a version of reality that exists only in your mind.

We all have our narratives about ourselves, about the situations in our lives, and about other people. The greater the difference between what we tell ourselves is happening and what is actually happening, the more lost we are. People boil themselves in pain and rage, and create stories that paint other people as villains, themselves as victims, other people as lost, while they’re enlightened, other people as weak while they’re strong. Few people have a story about how they’re fallible and have probably made as many or more mistakes than the person next to them, though that’s probably the most accurate story any of us could have about ourselves. We’re so quick to judge, to separate, to create an “us” and a “them”, when the truth is, we’re all dealing with difficult parameters, and we’re much more the same than we are different.

We’re on a tiny pale blue dot of a spinning planet in a vast universe, and we exist in one of at least five hundred known solar systems. We don’t know how long we have in the bodies we inhabit, and we don’t know how long anyone else has, even those we cherish and treasure and love beyond words and reason. We don’t know what happens after this. It’s understandable that we want to control things and create constructs and stories to make ourselves feel that we have some jurisdiction over how we feel and what happens to us, but the truth is, we never know what’s going to happen from day to day. Some people have an easier time taking their sticky hands off the steering wheel than others.

The more we can look openly, honestly, and with compassion at the places where we’re afraid, where we feel confronted or hopeless or angry or heartbroken, the more we can be accountable for the energy we’re spreading as we move through the world, and the more we can experience true freedom. If we’re here for a blink of time, it might as well be amazing, right? We may as well offer up every great thing within us, but it’s hard to do that if we’re not willing to look at ourselves clearly, and get to work bridging the gap between who we say we are, and who we’re being. Peace comes when there’s very little gap between the two.

The same holds true for a country. If who we say we are is different than who we’re being in the world, then we know where we have work to do. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming others, we look honestly at how we’re being, and we get to work. Today is a day for barbeques and fireworks and spending time with family if you’re here in the states, but hopefully we also think about why we have the day off. That way tomorrow, we get back to work. Happy 4th to those who celebrate!

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

The Re-Education of the Heart

Your past does not have to define your future, but sometimes, in order to overcome it, you’re going to have to work like hell. It’s not a level playing field; some people have come out of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Children growing up in an unsafe environment often become adults who find it hard to trust and to open. You can only know what you know, after all. If the people who were meant to love you, nurture you and protect you were not able to do that due to their own limitations or history of abuse, you’re going to have some serious healing to do.

The problem is, it’s very common to seek what we know, because it feels familiar, it feels like home. Frequently, people who’ve come out of abuse find themselves in relationships with people who abuse them, and this strengthens their ideas that they aren’t worthy of love, and that no one can be trusted. This must be love because it feels like home. I feel unsafe or unseen or unheard. I have to earn love by being perfect. I have to dance like a monkey to get approval. These are all learned ideas and behaviors, and if this was your experience during your formative years, you have a lot of unlearning to do. You have to crash your own hard drive and start over. It’s always harder to unlearn something than it is to have it explained to you correctly from the beginning.

Not everyone can explain love to you, though. You have to have received it to understand it. You have to have had at least one person whose face lit up when you toddled into a room. Someone who taught you about hugs that make you feel like nothing could ever be wrong. Someone who wanted nothing but for you to be happy. You need to have gotten at least a little of that from someone, anyone along the way to have a clue about what it is. People who grew up in violence don’t know a lot about those feelings. Survival becomes the thing. How do I maneuver around this situation and these people in order to be safe? How do I endure this abuse without hating them? A kid turns it inward. If my own mother or father can’t love me, it must be me. It’s not conceivable to a child that maybe their parents are limited in this way, that maybe they have their own healing to do and they simply don’t have the tools to love them well or protect them, let alone nurture them, cherish them, celebrate them. Trauma and abuse can be carried forward just like genes. I’m not saying it’s genetic. I’m saying this stuff gets carried forward in the heart, in the body, in the mind, and instead of breaking the cycle, a lot of people repeat it. They don’t mean to and they don’t want to, but they simply don’t know anything else. A feeling floods the nervous system and they act out; anyone in the way is going to suffer.

For children who were sometimes abused, and sometimes loved, it gets even more complicated, especially if there was no discernible pattern. A child who never knows what to expect, never knows if she’s going to be hugged and praised, or beaten and broken down, can never feel safe. Heading into young adulthood that way, which is challenging under the best of circumstances, sets the stage for romantic relationships that are unlikely to be healthy and loving, to say the least.

Anyway, I’m writing about all this because my inbox is flooded with messages from people who are trying to forge a new path, to find a new way; people who’ve been betrayed by those they thought they could trust. People who are afraid to open, even though they desperately want to, because what if they get hurt again? Or what if they’re loved for the first time? People who think maybe they should just give up and be alone. I think when you’re coming out of a history like this, you have to work it from the bottom up, and from the top down. You have to flood your system with new information. I’m talking about the combination of therapy and yoga, which I highly recommend if you’re coming out of abuse. You need someone you trust to help you deconstruct thoughts that weaken you, and may be so ingrained you don’t even realize you’re thinking them, and you need to get in your body and retrain your nervous system which is used to a perpetual state of fight or flight. How can you even know what peace feels like? Joy? Happiness? Rage? There’s no time to honor your own feelings in a war zone. You push that sh&t down so you can survive, so you can get through. You’re so on the lookout for other people’s feelings, for the feeling in the environment around you, it doesn’t occur to you to think about what you want, what you need, or how you feel. What language is that?

The thing is, there are tools. If you’re suffering and you want things to be different, you just start where you are. You get yourself some help. You take over the job of re-educating yourself. Human beings have an insanely awesome ability to heal, to forgive, and to love, they really do. If your heart is broken, there’s more room to let the light in. People who come out of abuse and heal, tend to be incredibly compassionate, and grateful for every good thing. Joy is like this unexpected gift that’s never taken for granted. If you need some help, try this or this 🙂

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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

being-present

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!