Feel Your Feelings

Just a little reminder! Not every feeling or thought is desirable or welcome, but the more you try to push a feeling down or reject it, the more it will stick around! What we resist, persists.

Try instead to be curious about your feelings, like they’re guests arriving for tea. Invite them in, sit down, and explore! If you’re feeling envious (such an uncomfortable feeling!) don’t shame yourself! Sit down with your envy and figure out what’s at the root of it. Are you feeling “less than”? Did you get stuck in the comparing and contrasting trap? Are you shoulding on yourself? Where is the envy showing up in your body? How is it affecting your breathing or the way you’re holding yourself? What’s the quality of your inner dialogue around the feeling? Are you berating yourself or practicing compassion? That’s just one example!

All our feelings are an invitation to get to know ourselves more deeply and to cultivate friendliness toward our very human ups and downs. Feelings pass, after all. This is one way to develop more compassion for ourselves and others.

Next time you have an uncomfortable thought or feeling, pause, breathe, and have some tea with it! Chances are, once that feeling has been acknowledged and understood, it will move on and get carried away by the wind!

Sending love and hugs to all,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here and my yoga classes and courses here!

Get Off the Hamster Wheel of Not-Enoughness

When you’re part of a culture that is always sending you messages that you aren’t good enough, and teaches you to base your feelings of self-worth on how you measure up compared to other people, it’s really easy to feel like you suck. The truth is, there are about 7.5 billion people on the planet, but there’s only one of you. There never has been and there never will be another you, isn’t that incredible? Your worth has nothing to do with how you’re stacking up compared to the person ahead of you or behind you, whether you’re in a socially-distanced line or you’re looking at your social media feed. Your worth is not the number in your bank account or the number on your scale or your breast-size or waist-size or bicep-size. It isn’t in an arm balance or inversion, it isn’t in how many “followers” you have, it isn’t in your hair or the beer you drink or don’t drink, it isn’t in your car or your job or your partner. Your worth is intrinsic to you. You are here and you are unique and you have something to offer this world only you can. That’s amazing to me. You might need to get out of your own way, or heal on a deep level, you might need to stop believing old stories that keep you stuck, but your worth is never at issue.

One of the best ways to start coming from a place of abundance instead of lack and the fear that there isn’t enough for you, or that someone else has or could steal your place in the sun, is to focus on what you DO have, what is flowing, the gifts that might be easy to take for granted but are actually huge. I opened my eyes this morning and I get to be here another day with the people I love. That’s huge, that’s everything. I HAVE people I love deeply, who amaze me with their kindness, intelligence, insight, humor, enthusiasm, passion, steadfastness and resilience and I am loved in a deep way by a few people who really know me, see me and understand me, and that’s the luckiest thing I know. These are three gigantic things I could easily overlook if I allowed myself to get caught up in the hamster wheel of not-enoughness, but the antidote for that is a gratitude practice, a daily effort to remember. And this has helped me through some very dark days and tough times, and it doesn’t mean we don’t feel despair, fear, frustration, rage and every other feeling under the sun, it just means we take some time each day to appreciate the things we do have. It makes the painful days a bit less so and the beautiful days that much more piercing.

Sending you lots of love,

Ally Hamilton

What’s one thing that’s lighting you up right now? I’d love to know!

Our Collective Undoing

Uncertainty is the name of the game in life. This whole business of being human – arriving on a spinning planet in a vast galaxy with no idea how long we’ll have here, no clue how long anyone else will have, no idea what happens after this – none of these are easy parameters to deal with and integrate. We don’t know what kind of sudden loss we might face on a “normal” Wednesday or whether we’ll wake up in the morning. We don’t know if the person we adore will continue to adore us, we don’t know if our children will be okay when we drop them off at school (back when we used to do that), we don’t know if we’ll realize our dreams, no matter how hard we work. It’s a wonder any of us get out of bed in the morning and keep showing up, but that’s the very thing about human beings, we are a wonder.

In the face of all that vulnerability, we do get up. We brush our teeth and get dressed (pajamas count at this point) and we start the day. In “normal” times we might make a pot of coffee and start tackling our to-do list whether it’s written or not. Pack lunches for the kids, check! Get them up and make them breakfast, check! Drive to school in the nick of time, check! If it’s Monday, maybe we head to the grocery store after school drop-off and buy groceries for the week. Maybe Monday nights we go to yoga and put our mat in the same spot we like. The point is, we have our routines, our plans, our checklists, our habits, our schedule, our deadlines, our expectations and off we go. These are the things that help us forget our vulnerability, because in “normal” times and on most days, things go (mostly) the way we expect. Things go according to our plans, dammit, and this helps us feel okay on a spinning planet in a vast universe where we don’t know what the hell is going on.

In the last several weeks, all the things we count on to forget our vulnerability have been taken away from us. You can’t go to the grocery store unless you’re ready to suit up, mask up, glove up and wait on line six feet away from the nearest other person just to get in the store ten people at a time, and all of that reminds you of your intense vulnerability, so there went any comfort from your grocery routine. Maybe ordering online is better for now, you think. You can’t go on your hike because the trails are closed and you can’t go to the beach, either. You will survive this, these are small sacrifices you understand you have to make to care for the vulnerable members of your community, and yet these things help you with your mental wellness, but you’ll figure it out. You can’t meet your friend for coffee and a walk because you can’t see friends right now and there’s nowhere to have coffee and walking is really like some weird game of keep-away with strangers that is no fun at all. Hugs with anyone outside your house are not possible and if there’s no one in your house with you, there go hugs for awhile and here comes a lesson in skin hunger. Basically, what you have right now, what you get to acknowledge and roll around in and possibly avoid marinating in for a bit with a Netflix binge or three, is your vulnerability and the intense recognition of the fact that you are not driving the bus and you never, ever were.

If you make plans and your plans happen, that is called good fortune. If you have a checklist and it’s reasonable and realistic and your day goes the way you hoped it would, that is called hard work and good fortune. If you love someone and they love you back and this goes on for days and days and weeks and months and years, that is called enormous good fortune, it is called two people choosing each other again and again day after day, it is called hallelujah, and even then, one of you will be left at some point. There is no way through this life without loss and suffering, not a single one of us escapes it. There is no such thing as a “normal” day or the luxury of “wasting time” – the only sure thing we have is a lack of surety.

We all know this on some level. It’s tough to swallow, acknowledge and honor every day, but it’s real and it’s true and you can count on it and you know this in your heart of hearts and in your gut. You know this. All the plans and routines and regimens won’t change it. You can be totally ripped and gluten-free, you can do burpees or run miles or do nine hundred chaturangas a day (not recommended) and still, you can’t escape it. All the lists and deadlines in the world won’t stop it. What is different about the last several weeks, what makes this time unprecedented and unchartered as everyone has said and said and said again is that we are all going through this intense realization at the same time. Usually we experience this individually. We lose someone we love, and for us it’s like the world has stopped spinning and an entire universe has disappeared and it doesn’t seem possible people are out in the world having a good day. Our world has stopped. For a time our perspective changes and we remember how fragile we are and how fragile life is and how thin is the membrane between being here alive and being out in the ethers. We understand it for a time, but that is not easy to hold onto because it hurts, it’s painful, it makes us feel small and powerless and not in control. So eventually we “get back to living” and we make plans and lists and find a routine and a new footing and this person is still gone and sometimes the grief knocks us off our feet in the middle of a plan or a deadline and we remember again, but we get back up.

What’s different about this experience is that we have had a collective undoing, a group lesson in vulnerability and not being in control and it’s painful and it hurts and grieving and mourning make sense and there are no normal days and that is always true. There are angry people out there screaming about their rights being violated, but that anger is just the emotion on top of the pain and the rights they’re speaking of are gifts they can’t access to feel better and to feel in control. Some people deal with their vulnerability better than others. Some people try to suit up against it and armor themselves against the world, but that never helps in the long run. Your heart is meant to be broken again and again so it can keep softening and opening and you can know more and care more and have more compassion and understanding, awareness and patience and love for yourself and others. Does this mean we shouldn’t make plans or assume we’ll see our children at pick-up or pursue our dreams or try to meet our deadlines? Of course not. We are wonders after all and we should never give up on ourselves or each other or on life’s ability to surprise us with joy and adventure we never imagined. But somewhere in there, we ought to keep remembering, this is a gift, this is a gift, this is a gift.

May we all remember.

Sending you so much love and the hope that you are being gentle with yourself,

Ally Hamilton Hewitt

 

If the posts are helpful you can find my books here my yoga classes and courses here and live meditations and group support here.

Where You Find Your Shoulds You’ll Find Your Shame

You know about “shoulding” on yourself, right? When that nasty inner critic pipes up and says you should be further along than you are professionally or you should be married by now or you should make better choices with romantic partners or you should lose that ten pounds or you should be able to do it all and still look like a million bucks or you should be able to work and be an amazing parent, partner, friend, or you should not have said that stupid thing or lost your patience or made that horrible decision, and if anyone knew they’d also know how unworthy you are of love, friendship, anyone’s high esteem or affection.

That’s the problem with shame. It’s a liar, because the truth is we all have things we wish we could go back and do differently, we all have things we don’t share, even with our closest people, we all struggle with feeling like it’s just us. Shame makes you feel like a fraud, like you’re bad and not worthy, and because of that you have to push down your worst choices and biggest mistakes. Shame separates us from each other.

No one gets through life without making mistakes, no one feels good about every choice s/he has made. It’s okay, it’s called being human. Stop shoulding yourself and start working on forgiving yourself so you can offer up that particular spark of yours to the world. Life is too short for anything else.

If the world isn’t being gentle with you, I hope you’re being gentle with yourself. 
Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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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