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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Live Out of Your Imagination

Live-out-of-yourA few months ago I received an email from a guy who was ending a relationship with the woman he’d been hoping to meet his entire life. They had a great thing going, looked at the world in a similar way, had no shortage of laughter, great times, passion, real conversations and the ability to relax with each other. They’d taken trips and met each other’s families (well, she met his mom and his sister, but he doesn’t speak to his dad), and everyone felt they were a great match. But this guy had grown up watching his dad abuse his mom verbally, emotionally and physically, and he couldn’t get past the fear that eventually this great thing he had would turn into that painful thing he knew. That one day he’d find himself throwing a pan at the head of this woman he adored as their kid stood there watching, or saying things to her that he wouldn’t be able to live with, or doing things that would make him feel terrible about himself. He remembered feeling helpless and enraged as a child, and throwing himself between his mom and his dad as he got bigger. He said he did have a temper, and had managed to keep it in check for the two years he’d been with his girlfriend, but he didn’t think he’d be able to do that for 60 years. So he was going to say goodbye to her to save her from a life of pain. (I could say a lot about how we get ourselves into trouble when we try to manage other people’s paths, but that can wait for now).

The other day someone asked me to address the difference between sitting with your pain (non-reactivity), and processing it (liberation). I think this is a huge and important distinction. Sitting with your pain means you don’t run or numb out or deny when uncomfortable and intense feelings arise, like rage or grief or fear, shame or loneliness or despair. You don’t race out the door, or pop a pill, or have a drink or play a video game or go shopping, or open the refrigerator or pick up the phone in anger, or shoot off a fiery email. You just allow the feelings to arise and you observe them. You notice sensations in your body, like maybe shallow breathing, or that your shoulders are up around your ears, or there’s tension between your eyebrows, or a literal ache around your heart or deep in your belly. You let the feelings wash over you without acting, and with the understanding that they aren’t permanent and they aren’t facts. They won’t kill you, and you don’t have to act on them. They’re just feelings, and they will arise and peak and subside. And by sitting with them you open to the possibility of learning something essential about yourself. The why of your rage, or your fear or your shame. And by facing those feelings you own them, they don’t own you. They don’t run your show, you do. You choose how you respond, whereas so many people feel something and react. And end up with a mess they have to clean up. So just working on becoming less reactive and more responsive is huge. It’s a life-changer.

But if you want to process your feelings–if, for example, you find rage is coming up for you all the time, then I would recommend that you find yourself a great therapist. That’s as subjective an undertaking as finding a great yoga teacher, someone who resonates with you, and with whom you feel safe. I know so many people who say they tried therapy once and it “wasn’t for them”. You may have to call a number of people to figure out the right person to work with (I have local referrals for those of you in Los Angeles, and a few who are brilliant and work online. PM me if you want contact info). But having someone who can kindly hold up a mirror for you so you can see your pain clearly, but also your light, also your power, can be so helpful. And combining that with a consistent yoga practice so you can work on feeding a loving voice while you’re on your mat is really powerful. The other thing I’d highly recommend is seated meditation. When you sit, and there’s nothing coming in, and nothing going out, you start processing what’s inside you. It’s kind of like emotional fasting. Not that there’s an absence of emotion, just that the emotion is arising from deep within you. Eventually, if you stick with a seated meditation practice, you become more interested in the fact that you’re thinking, and not in the thoughts themselves. And then you find some peace in the space between your thoughts, which will increase if you stick with it. I’ve been practicing Vipassana (insight) meditation for 12 years, you can check it out at dhamma.org if you’re interested.

The thing is, there’s no easy way around this stuff. Whatever your pain, you’ll have to go through it. But there are so many tools and healing modalities. You just have to explore and figure out what’s going to be helpful to you on your path toward healing. For me, yoga, seated meditation and therapy are a great mix, along with reading and writing. For you, it may something else. But there’s no reason your particular frame of reference has to rule your life. You can only know what you know, right? Whatever you’ve been through makes up your frame–the lens through which you look at the world, and process data. Sometimes that lens is bent, or cracked, or covered over with a thick layer of despair. You work with your lens so you can see clearly. That’s the liberation I mentioned above. It’s not the that pain goes away, it’s simply that you recognize it when it comes up, and the force of it has been so diminished by your work, it doesn’t rule your life anymore. And you don’t assume that what you’ve known is all there is. You have the freedom to imagine something else for yourself. To create something that maybe you’ve never known, or seen, but you know in your heart is possible. You have the power to forge a different path. Wishing that for you, and sending you love, as always, Ally

Get Up!

Even-if-youre-on-theAwareness is the first step, but action is what’s needed if you want to see a shift happen. People often get stuck at the level of identification, meaning they can tell you in great detail why they are the way they are, but that’s as far as they’ll go. The past experiences explain and justify the current behavior. Except they don’t, because there’s always space for growth, and for free will.

Healing requires openness and honesty and a willingness to not look away, even when you must stare at the center of your deepest pain. It also demands vigilance, especially when you detect unhealthy patterns in your life. It means re-training yourself to feed a loving voice, and to starve any tendencies that make you feel less than, or unworthy of love. We are always in process. Knowing yourself well is a gift that makes it possible to “catch yourself” sooner, so you can make healthy decisions based on how things are, and not how they once were. To move forward with love and trust, even when the road is dark and slick and we’re traveling with no map. In order to proceed in a direction that’s going to lead to happiness and peace, you’ll have to avail yourself of some tools that give you the power to pause and breathe when you feel triggered. Yoga practice is excellent for that.

Healing also requires your creativity, and a willingness to let go of the chains that are holding you back. Sometimes we’ve been attached to a sad story for so long, we can’t imagine what would happen if we just released it. If we weren’t blaming other people or circumstances for our unhappiness, what would we do with our time, and how would we explain our lack of joy or purpose? These are tough questions to face, and getting support is a really good move if you’re in this position. The combination of yoga, seated meditation and therapy worked for me, but you may need other tools. That part is personal, and you’ll have to figure out what you need by trying different things, and staying with it until you find something that resonates with you. But that’s a much better use of your time than explaining that your current abandonment issues are based on a time, twenty years ago, when your dad left you and your mom. Identification is great, but you have to add excavation on top of that. Is it your mom’s and dad’s story, or is it your story now?

Giving up on yourself is a serious shame and an act of ingratitude. As heartbreaking as it can be sometimes, this life is a gift, and this experience of being human, vulnerable, awake, and changing is an opportunity to heal more than just ourselves. We come into this world with an insane amount of love inside of us, and I believe we are meant to uncover it, and spread it all over the place. The story of your life will keep unfolding, every day. There are the circumstances, and there’s the way you respond to them. In that way, you co-create the story. The pieces are always moving, the ground below us is always shifting, there are no promises or guarantees, and you don’t have forever. There are big questions that need to be lived, that you can never truly answer, but that you’ll have to grapple with if you want to be at peace. The key is to keep moving, keep growing, keep seeing and listening and exploring. To be willing to allow life, and your very own self, to surprise you. To recognize you’ll never have all the answers, in fact, you’ll have very few. Only a couple truly matter, anyway. How much are you going to love, and how much are you going to do what you can to heal yourself, and in so doing, the world around you? Sending you so much love, Ally Hamilton