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

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

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 Part That Is Personal

Sometimes-life-knocksOften I get emails from people who tell me their relationships would be wonderful, if only their partner would change. And sometimes they tell me they’ve been to therapy hoping that would help, but there hasn’t been any movement. Here’s the thing. We can never change other people. No one can ever change us, either, unless we want to make a shift. And you can find yourself at a real stalemate, and start to feel hopeless and stuck.

But just as we can never change other people, we are also not set in stone. You can always change what you are doing, and there’s tremendous power in that. When you look at the situations in your life, the story to pay attention to is not the one about what this person did, or how things unfolded in ways you couldn’t have imagined, or how something beautiful turned to something painful. I mean, you can examine all of that, but the thing you really want to dive into, is the story of your own participation.

Sometimes people get very clear on the “not taking things personally” part, and that’s wonderful. If someone is abusive, cruel, unkind, dismissive, thoughtless or disrespectful, that’s a reflection of where they are on their particular journey at this point in time. Is is not a reflection of anything lacking within you. But, and this is an important but, what is about you is your decision to continue to interact with people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. That part is the personal part, that’s the part you want to understand.

We’re not always talking about awful, abusive situations. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the spark going out. People take their partners or loved ones for granted all the time. Sometimes we think we have people “pegged”, and we don’t have to pay attention anymore. But everyone and everything is in a constant state of flux. You are not the you of five years ago, and neither is anyone else. You can’t ever peg anyone. But you can stop looking and listening and appreciating and cherishing and celebrating people, and that’s a sad but common occurrence. And if you find you’re in a relationship like that, where you feel unseen and unheard and taken for granted, you’re probably not going to turn that around by pointing fingers, and letting your partner know all the many ways he or she is blowing it. Because it’s never one person. In any relationship, there are two people, and the third thing, the space between them. That is where the relationship exists, in that space. Each person decides what’s going into the space, and this is true whether we’re speaking romantically or otherwise.

It’s easy to lose the thread. But if there was a spark in the beginning, if there was communication and vulnerability and honesty, you can find those things again, by offering them yourself. When you change what you do, things change around you, people respond to you differently. Also, your happiness is your own responsibility. You can’t put that on anyone else, that’s an inside job. If you are not at peace within yourself, if you’re not feeling inspired, if you’re not loving yourself well, no one can solve that but you. The idea in a healthy relationship is that you support your partner, you don’t look to him or her to solve your pain for you.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, and by that I mean verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, it’s time to do something. Physical abuse demands that you create physical boundaries. In other words, you have to get out, and you’ll probably (definitely) need support in doing that. You cannot stay and expect things to change because they won’t. Or they will, but not in a good way. Your life here is a gift. It isn’t something you want to gamble. And thinking your love or patience or tolerance will finally change things is a dangerous delusion.

If we’re talking about verbal and emotional abuse, boundaries are also in order. If you’re not worried about your physical safety, it’s time to draw the line. If a person cannot treat you with care and consideration, then what is the relationship about? Are you financially dependent? Does the abuse remind you of the way you grew up? Does some part of you believe that you are not good enough to deserve love? If you get a yes to any of those questions, you need help and support. Low self-esteem is dangerous because we betray ourselves when we feel we aren’t worthy of being cherished. We put ourselves in situations that are crushing and heartbreaking, and you can only take that for so long before you become depressed or hardened, or you need to numb the pain. That’s no way to live.

There is no happily ever after without your participation and action. There is no person who’s going to sweep in and save the day and make everything okay, unless you decide to be that person. Be that person, seriously. Life is too short for anything else, and it can be so beautiful. Sending you love and a hug. Reach out if you need help, Ally Hamilton

Color-Blindness

You-must-love-in-such-aYou are the sum of all your actions, and so is everyone else. That doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t make mistakes, or that your poor choices stay on your “permanent record” forever; it’s just that what we do, the things we say, and the choices we make define us. As long as we learn and grow along the way, as long as we do our very best not to hurt other people intentionally, we’ll all do just fine.

The thing is, sometimes we want something so much, we refuse to look at a person’s actions or hear their words. Maybe what they’re saying is shocking to us, or disappointing, or hurtful, or just not at all what we’d expected. Maybe the choices they’re making are confounding. You really don’t want to brush these things under the rug, or try to talk a person out of feeling the way they do. If, for example, your partner tells you he or she is not happy in your relationship, you have to hear that. Telling a person that the way s/he feels doesn’t make sense is not the same thing as taking in what was said. It’s not.

If your loved ones say they don’t feel heard, and you respond with all the evidence about what a great listener you are, don’t expect them to feel like you’re getting it. You can’t tell someone that what he feels isn’t valid, because feelings don’t have to be true, and they don’t have to make sense. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, but if you want people who are close to you to feel like you understand them, you have to try to wrap your head around the idea that what’s clear to you may not be to other people.

Did you know that one in twelve men suffer from some degree of color-blindness? That means if you grabbed a guy off the street, there’s a one-in-twelve chance he won’t see what you’re seeing when you look around. Now, when we’re talking about being color blind, we get that there’s a real difference in perception that can’t be helped, but we’re all color blind to each other to some degree. We’ll never fully be able to look through someone else’s eyes, or live in someone else’s head. We will only know people to the extent that they allow us access to their interior worlds. And the same is true for us. How honest are you with the people in your life? You can be in a relationship and still be totally alone. You can be alone without being lonely at all.

It’s hard enough to embrace the vulnerability of this gig. The worst thing you can do is make your life and your relationships murkier and more fragile by running from what’s true for you, or what’s true for others. If someone wants to leave you, you have to let them. If someone feels unheard and it’s a someone you love, you have to hear that, and see if you can learn to listen in a different way. Sweeping things under the rug, grasping to the reality you want when it isn’t real, clinging to people who want to run, none of that is living. That’s grasping, and it’s exhausting. Open hands. Open eyes. Open mind. And most of all, open heart. Sending you love and a huge hug, Ally Hamilton

Not This, Not That

buckminsterfullerIn yoga practice, so much of what we’re doing is about stripping away. It’s very possible, and quite common, to reach adulthood and have no clue who we are or what we need to be at peace. Culturally we’re taught to look outward for happiness; if we just meet certain “markers”, if we can look right and have the right job and the right partner and the right house and car, then we’ll be good to go. A lot of people are so focused on attaining these outer signs of happiness, they pass right by the signs that would actually lead them there.

Also, there’s the way you grew up. Maybe you were taught, in word or through actions, that your worth as a human being was based on your performance; if you did well in school, if you were a good boy or girl, then all would be well. If you screwed up or failed to reach the bar, love was withdrawn and the disapproval was palpable. Maybe punishment was swift and intense. That’s just one example, of course. There are many. Maybe you grew up in a house where you felt unsafe, and you learned to be indispensable or invisible depending on the moment. Maybe you were spoiled rotten and taught that you were the center of everything, and that other people existed in order to orbit around your needs and wants. Perhaps you were taught that your needs and wants were something you were supposed to swallow, and that your fears and dreams had very little impact on the world around you. Maybe you were parentified and got a huge lesson in care-taking and people-pleasing. It’s a huge spectrum, but the chances for knowing yourself are slim in any of these scenarios.

This is why we have so many people who reach adulthood and have no idea which way to turn. The house doesn’t do it, the diet doesn’t do it, the right partner doesn’t do it. What’s the point? Where have they gone wrong, why isn’t the formula working? The formula doesn’t work because it’s based on the stuff around us, not the stuff within us. I know someone who’s been searching for the “perfect house” for years. Money isn’t an issue, the location could be anywhere. No matter where he goes or what kind of house he buys, it’s never the right one. It never does the trick. If you want to be at peace, you have to get your true house in order. Your body is your home. If things are not well within you, they won’t be well around you, even if you buy a mansion in Bali and have people on hand to feed you fresh mango at your every whim. There’s no escaping yourself.

In the yoga practice, we’re looking for “vidya” or “clear-seeing”; being able to identify what is real from what is unreal, what is permanent from what is impermanent. You have to question everything you think you know, because you may have accepted things along the way, decades ago, that turn out not to be true for you. You may have adopted ways of being that don’t serve you, that dis-empower you, or block you from receiving love and joy. You may have a lot of unlearning to do. Maybe you’ve come to believe you aren’t lovable, or that you’re broken in some un-fixable way. Maybe you think you can’t trust anyone, or everyone lies and cheats. There are all kinds of ideas you might have developed that just aren’t true, and so you have to dig. You have to unearth. You have to do the work to heal your deepest wounds so they don’t direct your entire life. The way to peace is inside, not outside, and the sooner you start, the faster you get to a place where life feels good. Avoiding this work is the surest way to suffer. You aren’t here to suffer, although it’s part of life sometimes. You’re here to shine. I wouldn’t wait.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Anger Management 101

charlesglassmanMany people struggle with handling their anger in healthy ways. Did you ever have an altercation with someone, and let them know you could see they were angry, only to have them yell, “I’m NOT ANGRY!!!”? Have you ever been that person?

Sometimes we deny our anger because what we’re really feeling is so much more complex. Underneath anger, there’s always pain. We might feel vulnerable or threatened. We might feel deeply hurt. We might be afraid that some of our most raw and unhealed places have been exposed. Maybe we feel disrespected, unseen, or unheard. So when we’re angry and we say we aren’t, sometimes it’s because we’re trying to express there’s so much more to it, and sometimes it’s because we don’t want to admit our vulnerability in the moment when we’re feeling the most unsafe.

When the nervous system is overwhelmed and we’re in a state of “fight or flight”, the chances are slim for constructive conversation about what’s happening. If your heart is racing and your hands are shaking and you have that shallow chest-breathing happening, you’re probably not going to be in a position to identify the nuances of what you’re feeling. Also, anger is a perfectly natural, human emotion we’ll all experience, but sometimes people push it down, and other times they lash out. Learning to manage our anger in healthy ways so we don’t deny the truth of what we’re feeling, nor do we do or say things we might regret, is a skill worth working on.

We don’t have to be afraid of our own anger, nor do we have to be afraid of anyone else’s, assuming they aren’t going to become so overwhelmed by it that they’re dangerous. Recently, I had the unfortunate and heartbreaking experience of watching a man pull his car over to the side of the road and punch the woman in the passenger seat, who was screaming and yelling, “Don’t hit me!” He took off before I could get his license plate, and by the time the police arrived (just two minutes later), he was long gone. If you’re in a situation like that, you need support, and you need to leave. We can love people who don’t yet know how to manage their anger, but we can’t stay with them. Living in fear is not living, and you are not here to be a punching bag for anyone. Your physical safety is not something you can compromise, and someone who hits you, and then apologizes and promises it will never happen again, only to hit you a short time later, needs serious help. The cycle isn’t going to end just because you love her or him, or because you want it to.

A lot of people are never taught the tools that help when we’re in the midst of intense sensation in the body. Any strong emotion—rage, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, fear, depression, longing, grief, shame—creates incredible, visceral sensations. The body does not lie, so if you’re angry, it will show on your face, in your hands, in the way you’re moving, breathing, standing. Sometimes we’re so upset, we want to let it out, and that is okay. In order for people to know us and see us, they have to be willing to enter the fire with us. If you’re going to be close to someone, if you’re going to work on real trust and intimacy, you’re also going to have to share your deepest fears. This is why it’s so important to take your time. It takes quite a while to really know another person, but if you’re on that path, then you’re going to have to give that family member, close friend or romantic partner access to your interior world. And if you’re like most people, not all of it is going to be pretty and full of sunshine and flowers.

When anger erupts, it’s like a volcano in the body. You have to let the heat out, or you’ll scorch and burn from the inside, but how you let it out is the thing. Words can be like daggers, and certain things can never be unsaid or forgotten. The body is full of wisdom and it’s full of information. The next time you feel overwhelmed, trapped, cornered, or attacked, try to pause and notice your breath. Notice what’s happening in your body. See if you can slow down your breathing. The breath is the only involuntary system in the body that we can affect with our minds, and it’s powerful. If you can calm your nervous system in the midst of a storm, you give yourself some power over how you’re feeling, and what you do about it. You give yourself some room to choose your response, and that’s a gift you give to yourself, and everyone in your life. If you want to work on this, you can get started with me right now, here.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Let Go and Look

johnlubbockWe’re always bringing so much to the table. We all have our histories, our life experiences, our ideas, our frames of reference. Everything that happens outside of us is filtered through what we know, and what we think we know. So what is really happening? Is our perception different from reality? Can two people participate in a conversation and walk away with totally different feelings about what happened? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Yogis call clear-seeing “vidya”. It means we can differentiate between what is permanent and what is impermanent. “Avidya” is the state of ignorance about ourselves, other people, and the world around us; it’s like a sleep-walking state. The practice of yoga, and by that, I mean all eight limbs, is about wiping the lenses clean, and waking ourselves up. Examining those frames of reference we have, and seeing if they’re distorted. Letting go of our attachment to “how things should be” and allowing them to unfold as they are without fighting or clinging or denying, because there isn’t any power in that. We’re never going to control other people, nor do we want to try. We’re not going to control outcomes, or the weather, either, but we can work on facing reality as it is, and responding with bravery, honesty, compassion, awareness, patience and acceptance. We can also pick our battles this way. There are things, people, and causes we need to fight for, and times when acceptance is not the way. Discernment, “viveka”, is the thing.

We save ourselves and the people closest to us a tremendous amount of pain when we get hungry for the truth. And by that, I don’t mean there’s one truth for everyone, I mean what is true for you? What is true for the people closest to you? What is true about the situations you’re in, the dynamics between you and other people? Are there places where you’re hiding from yourself, things you don’t want to see, or feel you cannot accept? Do you have deeply ingrained ideas about yourself or other people that are weighing you down, and preventing you from opening to love, joy and gratitude? Like, “I’m not good enough”, or, “I’m unlovable or broken”, or, “You can’t trust anyone”?

Also, are you taking things and other people for granted? Are there people in your life you think you know “like the back of your hand”? When’s the last time you looked at the back of your hand, by the way? Everything alive is changing all the time. If you think you have someone pegged, even your partner of thirty years, you’re in trouble. When we stop looking, we miss so much, and we don’t leave space for life to surprise us, either. When we think we know, when our cup is full, there’s no room to learn, and if we aren’t learning, we’re dying. As much as possible, wipe the slate clean, and try to move through the world with curiosity. Life is full of extraordinary gifts, and you don’t want to miss them.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton