How to Embrace Change and Leave Judgment Behind

artoflifeSo much of our struggle comes from our attachment to a picture of how things should be, or how life should look, or how we should feel, or what other people should want, say or do. So often, we should on ourselves and others, and end up carrying the weight of shame, or the feeling of alienation, both of which deplete us and make it hard to rise up. The truth is, there is no formula for life, no “one size fits all” for this thing, we just have to figure it out as we go along.

If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that everything is always changing, and that includes our feelings, circumstances, other people, dynamics, the seasons, our needs, dreams and desires. You are not a static creature, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know. What you wanted five years ago may not be what you want today. The way you thought life would look versus how it actually looks right now might be jarring, surprising, unsettling, or totally delightful. You can make your plans, in other words, but don’t expect life to bend to your will. Make your vision board if you want to, but leave some open space for surprises, twists, turns, betrayals, opportunities, jobs and lovers across the country, births and deaths. You don’t write every part of the story after all, you only write your own part, and even that is not entirely up to you.

I know people who make choices they regret, but then cannot live with the idea of hurting those they love. I know for myself, I would rather hear and accept the truth than live a lie, or be the unknowing recipient of someone’s pity or guilt. If you love someone, have enough respect for them to be honest about what is real for you, and trust that they, too, may have a different path full of things, experiences and people they never imagined. At the very least, know that if you aren’t honest, the foundation of whatever you’ve built will start to crumble, and the only way to save it or give it any chance of resurrection is with the strength of your own convictions.

That’s not to say that it’s an easy thing to hurt or disappoint other people, I think it’s one of the most difficult and devastating experiences we go through. The thing is, life is complicated and messy for everyone, and we don’t get a crystal ball. Most people don’t set out to hurt you, any more than you’ve ever consciously decided to try to hurt someone else. You can put yourself through the wringer, but in the final analysis, no one can hate you for how you feel. The thing is to communicate before you act. I think for a lot of people, the feelings arise and they try to push them down, until finally there’s an explosion, or they’ve done something in response to those feelings that they now have to live with, grapple with, or explain. That’s when things get really challenging. If you can talk to those closest to you as you’re shifting, changing and evolving, you open the doorway to true intimacy, whether we’re talking about family, romantic partners, or friends. People can’t know you and understand you, they can’t cherish you and honor you if you won’t let them behind the veil.

Sometimes change is forced upon us–someone we love needs to take a path we don’t understand, or someone we love has betrayed us, or we get fired, or find out our child wishes he or she was a different gender, or nine million other things that life can put on the path in front of us that we might not have expected, foreseen, or wanted. The more you can open to people and circumstances as they are, the more you leave room for life to flow. I know it’s tempting to plant your feet and grow your roots and make your stand and try to control this wild world with your calendar and your alerts and your deadlines and schedules, and things you do on Wednesday, and at the very least, where you place your mat when you come to yoga, but the truth is, you are not in control of this story, and neither am I, and neither is anyone we know.

We are all going to face surprises, heartbreaks and joys we never planned for and didn’t expect, and we are all going to make mistakes and hurt people with our humanness, and that is okay, it’s a part of life. I would say, whenever possible, communicate with compassion, don’t assume, don’t project, and try not to hold onto lists of ways you’ve been wronged, because all that stuff will weigh you down. Try to release your grip on the story, open to the gifts when they present themselves, forgive yourself and others, and allow the story to unfold. That way you leave room for the surprises within you and around you, and you grant permission to yourself and those you love to be wildly, imperfectly human, too.

Beach-yoga

Sending you love,

 

Ally Hamilton

 

Any Chance You’d Please Review My Book?

Dear Friends, Blog Readers, Subscribers and Other Creatures,

Yogas Healing Power-2It’s been just over a week since my book came out, and I am having such fun. I appreciate all of your support and enthusiasm, I was so grateful to see so many of you at the event in L.A. at General Assembly, and at both events in NYC! SF is next, but in the meantime, I’m wondering if any of you who’ve read the book already might be willing to write an Amazon review? Apparently they are enormously important and helpful. I’m doing everything I can to birth this little book into the world, and I really appreciate your willingness to help me. I’m one of those people who used to never ask for help. In my past, I’d rather drown than say I could use a hand, but I’m getting over that, because you all have been so incredible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you go to the Amazon page and click on the one customer review that’s there (5-star, thank you!! :)), you will see the option to write your own review. A couple of sentences is great! Thank you in advance, and sending you love and huge hugs!

Ally Hamilton

3 Ways to Forgive Yourself and Stop Dwelling on the Past

glassofregretIf you’re human, (and I assume there are no zebras reading this post), then you can probably look in your rearview mirror and spot some choices you wish you could make over again, and differently. The truth is, most of us do the best we can as we go along, and that means most of us will probably fall short from time to time. Life does not unfold in a linear fashion, we do not get to hit the “pause button” until we’re ready, sometimes we think we’re ready for something only to find out we are wildly unprepared or had an unrealistic idea of what we were getting into in the first place. Also, sometimes we’re coming out of abuse or neglect, a dysfunctional family system, a crazy culture that expects us to edit out our difficult feelings, or we’ve developed coping mechanisms along the way that don’t serve our highest good at all. We may have stories we tell ourselves that are not true, ideas about other people that are based on our own misperceptions or lessons we learned that we have to unlearn, or a whole host of other difficulties that come along with being human. It’s an interesting and incredible gig, but no one would argue that it’s easy! You can lose a lot of time dwelling on the past, obsessing over decisions you cannot unmake, or feeling regret that won’t serve you or anyone else.

Here are three things you can do to lift the weight of regret from your shoulders, stop dwelling on the past, and free yourself of the burden of shame.

1. Embrace your fallibility and join the human race.

Welcome to the party, sport. We have all screwed up, some of us in big ways, some of us in smaller ways, but there is not a person on this planet over thirty who doesn’t have some questionable choices in his or her past. We learn as we go, and sometimes we hurt people because we are too young to know what we want, or too confused, or we wanted it then, but five years later we felt the soul being crushed out of us. If you feel badly about some of your past actions, please recognize this is because you have a kind, gentle heart. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be thinking about this stuff. If you have a warm and gentle heart, you are not an a$$hole, and that is fabulous. Please take a moment right now, place your hand over your heart, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say out loud in a firm voice, “I forgive myself for being human.”

TIP: If you’re at work, say it in a firm voice inside your head, but say it enough times that you feel it. If you exhale out some tears or other emotions, that’s great.

2. You are not Atlas.

Your work here does not involve carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. If other people won’t or can’t forgive you, that is on them, that’s a weight they’re choosing to carry, and an obstacle to their own freedom; at a certain point, you have to forgive yourself. Having said that, it never hurts to communicate clearly. If there’s something you feel you need to say to someone to make things right, go ahead and say it. Think carefully about your motivation, and how this might be for the other party. If you think you might disrupt someone’s life, or his or her tenuous grip on being okay, if you think the other person might still be healing from heartbreak, then it might be best to write a letter you never send.

TIP: It’s incredibly powerful to get things down on paper and out of your head, so don’t hesitate to put your thoughts in black and white. When you’re done, you can determine whether this is a missive that was just for you, or for you and them.

3. Be present.

It’s good and important work to know yourself, and that means it makes sense to examine the choices, decisions and behavior you regret, but you serve no one by marinating in that sad sauce. Once you’ve looked at your part in any story, owned what you can of it, apologized when necessary or appropriate, then there comes a time when you need to close the book on that story. Your life is not happening behind you, any more than it’s happening in front of you. The mind loves to hurtle back into the past, or careen forward into the future, but all that does is rob us of the present. Of course your memories and experiences are part of the fabric that makes you, you, and of course that makes them part of the tapestry that is your present, but how can you do a journey with your back to the road? That’s not a great way to navigate, or open to things as they are now, but it’s an excellent way to crash into feelings, things or people who are trying to get your attention in this moment.

Everything is in a constant state of flux, and if you keep looking back over your shoulder, you are trying to stop time and stop the current. Maybe your mistakes will help you travel through your present-day waters with more ease, strength and insight. Perhaps recognizing the bumps in the road will help you avoid repeating mistakes, so you can, at the very least, make better mistakes as you go. Your breath is an excellent anchor-point. When you become aware of your inhales and exhales, you’re directing your mind to focus on something that’s happening right here, right now. This is an excellent way to catch yourself when the mind wants to head in a downward spiral, when you notice obsessive thinking, or when you recognize you’ve already examined a situation to the degree that it’s productive.

“Svadhyaya” means “self-study”, and it’s one of the Niyamas. We want to understand ourselves and know what’s motivating our choices and actions, but we also want to embrace the reality that we’re continually evolving. Don’t allow yourself to continue to set your compass toward something behind you, because you’re failing to integrate your own metamorphosis. That’s not something you want to miss!

Sending you love and a hug,

Ally Hamilton

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Yoga and Mindful Parenting

childrenimitateNot long ago, I was in a parking garage walking to my car, and I saw a young mom, struggling with her daughter who was wailing. “I miss Daddy!” Her mom was yelling back, “It’s not a daddy day, you’ll see him this weekend!” My heart hurt. I felt badly for both of them. I went back and forth as a kid, three nights at my mom’s, four at my dad’s, switching that fourth night every other week. When I was at my mom’s I’d miss my dad. When I was at my dad’s, I’d miss my mom. I wanted to go over to the mom and say, “Hey, it’s so normal. She loves you, you’re her mom, but she misses her dad. Maybe a phone call to him would do the trick?” But I have found most people are not very receptive to suggestions when they’re in a heightened emotional state. So, I sent them love, and felt grateful, for maybe the millionth time, that when I had my kids, I’d already been practicing yoga and seated meditation for fifteen years. It helps so much in those moments when you want to pull your hair out, are feeling vulnerable, tired, or tested, or just aren’t sure what you should do. Parenthood asks us to be our best selves in every moment, twenty-four hours a day, but of course, that isn’t going to happen! For me, my practice has given me the tools to show up with the best of myself for the greatest percentage of time I can manage. If I’d had my kids before I had a long-standing practice, I have no doubt I’d have been screaming at them in parking garages.

I think there are plenty of articles out there that are shaming and judgmental when it comes to parenting. This won’t be another one. Maybe you only let your kid play with organic wooden blocks, and maybe you let your kid watch tv, and maybe you eat only avocados and maybe you let your kid have sugar sometimes. You won’t hear any gasping from me. There’s no formula for perfect parenting, you just do the very best you can with the tools you have. If you love your kids to the moon and back, and they know it, you’re doing pretty well! Here are some tools I’m grateful to have as a result of yoga and meditation practice, and I hope they’ll be helpful to you and your littles, too.

1. The ABC’s of Non-Reactivity

Sometimes WE need a timeout, so we can tune in! One of the greatest parental superpowers you can work on on your yoga mat is the ability to breathe deeply and stay calm when you feel challenged. Maybe you’re exhausted and your kid just asked you his ten millionth “why” question of the day. Maybe your teenager just tried to walk out the door in shorts so short her butt is hanging out, and when you said no, she told you all the reasons you know nothing about life. Perhaps your infant will not settle no matter what you do. Whatever stage you’re at, parenting is no easy gig! When you learn how to hold a lunge for twelve deep breaths even though your quadriceps are on fire, that power will be there for you when you walk through the fire in other areas of your life. So much of the physical practice is about being aware of physical sensation, and exploring it with curiosity. Eventually, this shows up for you when you’re feeling intense sensation that is a result of intense emotion. That ability to breathe deeply and stay calm is the difference between lashing out and saying something you’ll regret, making threats you don’t intend to keep, or thinking about your kid’s point of view, or whether there’s been a misunderstanding, or not!

2. Starve your loud inner critic

You might say to your kids, “Do as I say, not as I do”, but the truth is, our children integrate and internalize what they see day in, and day out. If you’re very hard on yourself, they’re not going to miss that. And if you’re hard on yourself, you’re likely to be hard on them, too, and then they’ll be hard on themselves. Author and inspirational speaker Peggy O’Mara has a quote, “The way you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.” Quite the responsibility, right?! When we live with a harsh inner dialogue, it’s only natural that it slips out sometimes. Whatever we’re filled with is naturally what we spread. If you work on being more forgiving toward yourself, you’ll find that ability is strengthened when it comes to other people, too, especially your children. When you make a mistake and you have an inner cheerleader instead of an inner witch, that cheerleader will be there when your kids spill their smoothies down the front of their shirt, or come home with a “needs improvement” in some subject or another. When we feel safe to make mistakes, the foundation of trust is built, and the knowledge that we are loved for who we are, and not for what we accomplish, is driven home.

3. Being present is the best gift you can give

We are all crazy-busy, and trying to find that elusive work-life balance can be challenging. Personally, I am not sure that really exists, I think it might be an urban legend. What I think it comes down to is priorities. One of the things we work on during the physical yoga practice is focal points. Each pose has one, and when you train your mind to focus on one thing at a time, that’s the same skill you use when you decide to put down your device and focus on your child. It’s the same skill you use when you’re in a crowded restaurant, but really want to hear about your kid’s day, or whatever is on her mind. Our attention, affection, love and presence are really the things our kids long for and thrive upon. Having the skills to be there fully means you’re not going to miss the moments, and your kids are not going to miss the love you feel for them.

There are so many things we work on in the yoga practice that make us better people for ourselves, and all those we love, and the world at large. Ultimately, it’s a breathing and listening practice. We breathe and become present, we listen to the body and respond with compassion, acknowledgment, respect, acceptance, patience and understanding. If you strengthen your ability to do those things for yourself on your mat, if you fill your tank with love, that’s naturally the same stuff you’ll have to offer your children, and that is gorgeous!

Sending you, and your littles, so much love,

Ally Hamilton

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Does Yoga Teach You How to Trust Yourself and Others? YES!

trustMy parents divorced when I was four. The broad strokes about my childhood experience after that are as follows–my dad liked women a lot, and my mom liked Chardonnay a lot. There was more to it than that, of course, but I spent a lot of time feeling bewildered and concerned about both of them.

Working Through the Confusion

I spent most of my growing-up years care-taking and peacemaking, and trying to be perfect so everyone would be happy. There wasn’t a lot of time or room to think about how I felt about anything, or to value my feelings. By the time I reached young adulthood, I had no clue how I felt about anything. I didn’t know what made me happy, scared, or inspired. I didn’t know what my gifts were, or how I should go about sharing them. I knew I didn’t want to be abandoned. I knew how to make myself indispensable to romantic partners. I knew how to be the good girlfriend, best friend, sister, daughter, student, but I had no clear sense of who I was, not really.

Dealing with the Pain

Needless to say, I found myself broken-hearted and pretty lost in my twenties. I was depressed a lot of the time, or anxious. I had frequent, debilitating migraines. I’d be in the kind of pain that makes you crawl around on the floor, vomiting, unable to see. I had a doctor give me a prescription for Percocet at seventeen and tell me to take it whenever I felt any pain coming on. It became hard to figure out the difference between an impending migraine, and normal stress, tension, or any uncomfortable feeling, so I took Percocet a lot. Basically, I was in a lot of pain.

Learning to Trust Myself Again With the Help of Yoga

When I started practicing yoga during my senior year at Columbia University, I was recovering from a horrendous relationship that had stirred the pot of all my childhood wounds. I had played out a lot of my history, looking to rewrite it, and find my happy ending, only to crash into a brick wall. On my mat, I started focusing on my breath. I was amazed at how that quieted the racket in my head. I started to pay attention to how I felt, and to figure out when my body was saying, yes, and when it was saying no. It took time and dedication, but I decided to place importance on the messages I was receiving from my body, and to reignite a conversation between my body and my mind that I’d been ignoring for years.

The reality is the body is full of wisdom and information about who we are, how we feel, and what we need to be at peace. The mind, while interesting, is full of ideas and opinions about how we should feel, or what we should need or want to be at peace. Some of those ideas are not even ours. A lot of the time we’re so used to being what other people want us to be, we’ve forgotten how to be who we are. And how can you possibly trust yourself if you don’t know yourself? Time and again, I’d put myself in reckless situations. I wanted to be happy, I wanted to be loved, but I did not treat myself kindly. I did not protect myself from people or situations, even when my intuition was saying “RUN!!!” I let my mind override my gut feelings for years, because I didn’t trust my gut, I’d been taught to doubt myself. At a certain point, that isn’t on anybody else, including your parents. At a certain point, that’s on you.

Growing Trust for Yourself & Others

The key to growing in trust for yourself and trust for others has to do with listening closely, and responding with compassion, honesty and kindness. These are things you can start to practice on your mat, as I did. If you’re in a pose and your body is saying. “That’s too much”, you back off, you find a place where it’s manageable, where you can breathe. Instead of striving and forcing your way into difficult poses, you give your body time, you work with it, you develop a bond there. You place more importance on the relationship you’re having with yourself than any pose. The more you loosen your grip, the less you get intense about having to “nail” a pose, the more your body opens. You’re not likely to find balance right-side-up or upside-down if there’s no foundation of trusting yourself. If you build that first, you’ll be surprised about where your body will go and what it will do for you, and you’ll also realize that getting your ankle behind your head is not the key to your happiness. Trusting yourself is, though.

When you know that you’re placing importance on how you feel, when you trust that your feelings have an impact on your actions, choices and the direction of your life, you can relax. My mind is full of interesting ideas, and sometimes I enjoy them a lot. Other times, I laugh at the absurdity. As far as choices about where I want to be, how I want to spend my time and with whom, what it is I’m trying to offer up, whether a situation or relationship feels right, or not so much, I always listen to my gut feelings now. I still get migraines occasionally, but the frequency and intensity have lessened so profoundly, they aren’t a meaningful problem for me at this point, and I don’t have any desire to numb out. I want to be awake for my life, and open to all my feelings as they arise, even the ones that are challenging; I don’t want to blur the edges or be in a fog. I changed the way I eat, I make sure I get enough sleep, and when I need to rest mentally or physically, I rest. Having an open and ongoing conversation with your body makes life so much easier. Life is mysterious enough, you really don’t want to be a mystery to yourself!

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Want to start opening that conversation between your gut feelings and your loud mind? Try this class. It’s called Follow Your Intuition or Get Burned! Preview it here.


 

Or, try a full course…

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Why Finding Peace in Life is Easier with Yoga

bhagavadgitaWhen I started practicing yoga twenty-five years ago, I had a lot of misconceptions about what it was, and what it was not. Mostly, I thought yoga was stretching on the floor, or that it was something “hippies” did, or that I might have to buy a sitar and change my name to something spiritual.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was way off, and that yoga was not just about the poses, about challenging my body and increasing my strength and flexibility physically, it was a way of increasing my strength and flexibility mentally, too. It was a way of moving through the world, a process of coming home to myself, a practice that rightly seeped into every aspect of my life and gave me the tools to shift the tendencies that weren’t serving me. It took me years to understand why and how my practice on the mat was helping me change patterns in my life, and I think if someone had explained it to me in terms I could understand when I started practicing, I might have made positive, meaningful changes sooner, and with greater awareness and ease.

Here are three things I wish I’d understood about yoga sooner:

#1. The breath is the foundation of the practice; it teaches us to be present and engaged with what is happening right here, right now.

It also calms the nervous system, creating an environment where all kinds of thoughts and feelings may arise, so that we can look at them with some distance. Prana means “life force”, and yama means “control”; pranayama is the practice of bringing our inhales and exhales to the forefront–of taking an unconscious process (breathing), and bringing consciousness to it–lengthening and deepening the inhales and exhales, creating the “ocean sound” by learning how to engage “jalandhara bandha” (the throat lock), finding pauses at the top of the breath and the bottom of the breath–essentially, engaging the mind with something that is occurring in our now. This ability eventually follows us off the mat so we can be more present with our loved ones, when we’re in conversation, driving, sitting in a meeting or going on a hike. The mind is always pulling us into the past or into the future, but having a breathing practice helps us draw the mind back to the present, and that’s a gift!

#2. Learning how to breathe through intense sensation gives us tools to breathe through intense emotion.

When you train yourself to breathe deeply in a lunge you’re holding for ten or twelve breaths, you’re also teaching your mind and nervous system to stay calm and breathe when you’re faced with challenging emotions. Emotions create sensations. If we’re enraged, that’s not an idea in the mind, those are feelings in the body–the heart races, the jaw or fists might clench, the shoulders go up around the ears, the blood pressure rises giving us a “hot head”. That time spent in the lunge when your quadricep was on fire serves you when your heart or your mind are on fire. The same holds true for any emotion–fear, longing, depression, anxiety. Having a breathing practice gives you the opportunity to explore your emotions without fearing you’ll be overwhelmed by them. That way you can know yourself.

#3. The focal points or drishtis give us the ability to follow through on our intentions.

Intentions are wonderful. We can make lists and vision boards and keep our journals, but if there’s no action in service to those intentions, there’s also no shift, no movement. In every pose on your mat, there’s a focal point. In Warrior 2 you gaze over the front fingertips toward the horizon, for example. Training your mind to do one thing at a time gives you the tools to direct your energy. Instead of being at the mercy of your monkey mind, you know how to pick it up, and place your attention on something of your choosing, like your passion project. This is the difference between setting aside an hour and really getting something done, or setting aside that same hour, only to realize too late you wasted it scrolling social media.

These are just three things we practice on the mat that directly translate into your life off the mat. I could write for hours about others (and did, actually, in my forthcoming book :)). Yoga is powerful and transformative because it gives us the tools to live in alignment with what is true for us, to be aware of ourselves and others, to learn how to speak calmly about how we feel, to listen deeply to ourselves and those we love. And you don’t have to change your name or buy a sitar (unless you want to)!

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Here’s a practice that’s all about practicing habits on the mat that lead to wonderful change off the mat. Preview it here.

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Is Yoga Boring?

eckhartApparently, this is a popular search on Google, and as someone who’s been practicing yoga for twenty-five years, let me say, yes! Yoga is VERY boring if you are uninterested in who you are, what makes you tick, what’s blocking you, what you do when you feel afraid, confronted, or challenged, the quality of your inner voice, the state of the relationship you’re having with yourself which impacts all the relationships in your life, and whether you’re able to offer up your particular gifts in this lifetime, or not so much. If those things are not interesting to you, then yes, yoga is super boring!

If, on the other hand, you find those things compelling, then yoga is the LEAST boring thing I know. If you think you’d like to shift some things about the way you’re moving through the world, take a compassionate look at the stories you may be telling yourself which might or might not be true, heal some very old, very raw places within you that lead you to make choices that bring you heartache, then yoga is going to be very interesting to you.

The Biggest Misconception about Yoga

I think people who worry that they might be bored in a yoga class are the people who have misconceptions about what yoga is. Do I have to be ultra-spiritual and wear mala beads and chant while playing my sitar in the forest eating nothing but chia seeds all day with my ankles tucked neatly behind my head, and a beatific smile on my face? Um, nooooo. Anyone who describes himself or herself as “ultra spiritual” has gotten lost along the way. They may have taken a turn on “I Take Myself Way Too Seriously” Lane, and hopefully they’ll find their way back to “Let’s Get it Together” Road, because that’s what it’s about. Yoga is a practice that is all about coming home to yourself.

What Yoga Really Is…

“Svadhyaya” means self-study. If you want to feel comfortable in your own skin, you can’t be a mystery to yourself, right? If you want to figure out what fulfills you, makes you feel inspired and of use, gives you that reason to bound out of bed in the morning feeling grateful for another day, you can’t be stuck in the quagmire of your past, or the litany of things you might fear about your future. Yoga is a practice that trains us to be present and engaged with the moment, with the now of your now, because there really isn’t any other time. It teaches us to breathe steadily, creating a foundation of calm. It gives us the tools to be responsive instead of reactive. It teaches us to be patient with ourselves, and others, because most of us are just doing the best we can. Yoga, if you practice all eight limbs, is a way of being and of moving through the world with ease, grace and strength. Yoga teaches us not to think we’ve got it all figured out even if we’ve done triangle pose a million times, because we’ve never done it before in this moment. Yoga teaches us to listen deeply, and to be curious about our process, instead of attached to a particular outcome.

There is no handbook for life, no hack that’s going to tell you everything, no red pill or blue pill that’s going to determine your future. However, there is this amazing practice which is the best system I’ve found for living life in a way that feels good, and offering up the very best of yourself. If that sounds boring to you, you should definitely not click the link below. Otherwise, want to try it with me right now?

Sending you love, and wishing you peace!

Ally Hamilton

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