Happy Thanksgiving

As-we-express-ourI love this holiday. No gifts, just an excuse to gather with friends and family, contemplating all the reasons we have to feel grateful. Of course, the more we do this regularly, the happier we feel. But culturally, we’re so trained to focus on everything we don’t have, and all the ways we aren’t measuring up. The more we feed that beast of lack, the worse we feel. When we’re coming from that “never enough” place, it leads to hoarding-to feeling that we must grasp at what we’ve got, while striving to accrue more.

Left to its own devices, the mind tends to get snagged on the negative. To focus on the one person who isn’t getting us, the one insult in the sea of compliments, the one person walking away, the one family member who’s challenging, instead of all the people moving toward us. Some of this could be biological. Back in the day, we used to worry about being eaten by saber-toothed tigers. If we weren’t on the alert, if we weren’t planning ahead, and thinking about all the things that could go wrong, we might end up as lunch for some creature. Of course, we’ve certainly turned the tables at this point. There aren’t many of us who need to worry about tigers anymore, but that “negativity bias” can be hard to shake.

Some people are addicted to worry; they’re addicted to stress. The Dalai Lama has a great quote, “If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time.”

You can lose hours, days, weeks or years worrying about things that will never come to pass. You can literally make yourself sick with worry, because thoughts create chemical reactions in the body. We really aren’t made to withstand continuous stress. Short spurts when we’re on the run from that “tiger” can be pretty manageable, but a constant state of high blood pressure, anxiety and fear are depleting and debilitating.

One of the great gifts of a consistent yoga practice is that we get to hone our focus. We use “drishtis” to train the mind on one point. We use sensations in the body (the most important of which is that steady, deep breath) to stay rooted in the present, and in so doing, we create space between our thoughts. We use the breath to calm the nervous system, and to build a foundation of steadiness in a spinning world. Maybe eventually, we develop a seated meditation practice, and start to really understand that we are not our thoughts, and that we do not have to believe everything we think, as the saying goes. Sometimes we’re dwelling on thoughts that weaken us. Yoga practice helps us to pick the mind up, and place it on thoughts that are going to strengthen and nurture us.

A gratitude practice is a great form of health insurance. I’m not saying it cures everything, I’m just suggesting that when we start and end each day reminding ourselves of all the gifts in our lives, that has a huge impact on our outlook, and the way we’re moving through the day, and sleeping through the night. The more we remember how much we do have, and how many things are going well, the more we come from a place of abundance, or “Santosha” (contentment)which leads to our generosity. If we think we don’t have enough, and other people have more, and we’re never going to reach our potential, we come from a place of fear, and we are unlikely to give much when we’re afraid. When we come from a place of gratitude and love, we know we have enough to give, and the beauty there is that giving feels so good.

We could really use givers in the world right now. It would be remiss not to acknowledge the suffering, grief, confusion and division that exists when we look around. We can’t solve these problems by continuing to isolate ourselves or draw lines when we feel hopeless or heartbroken, we have to reach out. And we don’t reach out from fear, we reach out from love. If you’ve just lost someone, this holiday season will probably be painful, and my heart goes out to you. If life isn’t unfolding the way you wish it would, the holidays can magnify those feelings. It might look like everyone else has the family, the friends, the love. You never know what someone has from the outside. Maybe this is a lonely time in your life right now; I’ve certainly had lonely and painful holidays. Remember that feelings are not facts, and they are not forever, and how you feel now is not how you will always feel.

“The best things in life aren’t things,” as Art Buchwald famously said. Connection and shared experiences, the love and laughter of those we hold dearest, belief in ourselves and in the goodness of people, these are the things that allow us to relax and breathe and open. Our main job here is to uncover our particular gifts and share them, because when we do that we feel fulfilled, and we know we’re having a positive and meaningful impact on the world around us.

Wishing you the happiest Thanksgiving, and also hoping the other 364 days are filled with gratitude.

Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Make Peace with the Shape of Things

woolfWe all have our plans and our ideas. We have a picture in our heads of “how things should be,” or “how things will be”, but most of us get the lesson early that life just doesn’t work that way. I know very few people who can say that everything has gone according to their plan. In fact, I don’t know one person who can say that.

Few things cause us to suffer more than our attachment to that picture in our minds or our hearts of how things should be or look or feel. Sometimes it’s so f&cking hard to let go of what you’d hoped for and wanted with your whole heart, but I really think a huge part of maturing, and of opening to things as they are has to do with this: at a certain point, you have to make peace with the shape of things. The shape of your world, the rhythm, the colors, the feel of it. Maybe things are more jagged or fractured than you’d hoped; maybe they’re spread out in a way you hadn’t envisioned and didn’t want. Life can be incredibly complicated sometimes. It’s not always obvious which way to turn, especially when your life and your choices and your feelings affect other people, and so you may look around at some point and wonder what exactly happened. How your life looks the way it does, when none of it was anywhere on your plan.

Sometimes the ship sails and the storms come and you do your best to go with your gut as you make decisions while you’re getting hit in the face with hail, and couldn’t find north from south even if you had a compass, because the compass wouldn’t be a crystal ball, would it? Maybe you end up in a country you’ve never traveled to before, with customs and a language you don’t understand, and you think, “I can’t do this,” but you can.

You start again, you come up with a new plan. Or maybe you’ve landed in the exact spot you were trying to avoid, and somehow, some insane way the GPS on your ship landed you right back where you began, because maybe, just maybe, your plan did not include healing yourself first, before you took off on your great adventure. Maybe the language and the customs are all too familiar, and you can’t believe you have to deal with this sh&t again, but it’s not the same, because you aren’t the same. Maybe you need to get the lesson that you can’t always change a situation, but you can change the way you deal with it.

Anyway, here’s the thing. We cling and we grip and we refuse to let go and we suffer. Or, we trust that we can forge a new way and work with a changing set of circumstances. We acknowledge that we were never in control of this thing, and our plans look funny to us, or we feel a little naked, or foolish or naive, like we got caught with our pants down because we just didn’t see the folly of it. Have your passions and pursue your dreams all the way with everything you’ve got. Set your intentions and work your a$$ off, and put some action behind what you want, because you’re here to share your gifts freely and with abandon. Just watch your attachment to things (or people) feeling the way you think they should feel, or the way you want them to feel, because people are going to feel however they need and want to feel and things are going to happen you never could have imagined, and all your fine plans could easily get turned upside down on any given morning. It could be that your plan goes flying out the window, and you watch it float, fly away, out of reach and maybe something more amazing than you ever could have imagined happens instead. It’s not all doom and gloom, life can be quite the adventure if you let it.

However things are right now, whether they look like that picture you’ve had in your head, or nothing at all like that, try to make peace with the shape of things. If you cling and grip, you will suffer. If you draw a huge heart around all of it, you’ll find your way with love. Maybe you can draw a heart so big, there’s space around things and life has the room to surprise you.

Start small if you need to—make peace with the shape of your body. We spend so much time obsessing over the external stuff. The body is a freaking miracle, but we get caught up in numbers. How many pounds is it? How many inches? Like we’re going to the butcher’s or the tailor. This is life, this is the party, it’s happening right now. It’s not the butcher. How’s your heart? Is it beating for you? Marvelous. Can you look outside and see the sun? The rain? The green of the trees? Can you walk outside because you have two working legs? Brilliant. Can you hug the people you love because you’re alive and they’re alive and you have two working arms? Oh my god, how fantastic. Make peace with the shape of things. Draw a big, huge heart around it all. See what you can grow that way.

Sending you love, as always,

Ally Hamilton

You can find my books here <3

Find the Gift

darknessoliverSometimes the gift is getting what you want, and sometimes the gift is not getting what you want. It’s fairly easy to celebrate when things go our way, but it usually takes a lot of effort to unearth the beauty in having some of our desires remain unfulfilled. I’m not an “everything happens for a reason” yogi, and I don’t believe everything is positive. I don’t go for platitudes like, “If you don’t get what you want, it’s because something better is planned for you”, but I do think there’s the potential for growth in every experience.

Heartbreak is a good example. Maybe you’ve suffered through a painful breakup, or you’ve lost someone you don’t know how to live without. Trying to find the gift when your heart is broken is no easy feat, and I don’t recommend that you rush to do that. If you’re grieving, grieve. Give yourself time to feel whatever you need to feel — deep sadness, despair, anger, longing, whatever it is. The best way to prolong a state of pain is to deny it, numb it out, or push it away. If you want to get through something and come out the other side as soon as possible, the fastest method is to lean right into your heartache. Then you can release the heat of your feelings, and you can start to let the worst of it burn off.

The gift comes in learning more about yourself. If you let these experiences soften you rather than harden you, you’ll find you become more empathetic, more insightful, and more able to extend compassion to other people who might be suffering. We learn the most about who we are, where we still have healing to do, where we’re strong and where we could use some strengthening, through times that challenge us. Chapters that feel good are wonderful, but as far as growth goes, we generally learn more through times that test us.

If someone let you down, the beauty comes through healing. Maybe the experience caused you to doubt your worth, and perhaps it took years to get through it. Maybe something very old was tapped, and you found yourself reeling, flailing, or running from your feelings, or maybe you opened yourself and you were hurt, and decided it was better to be hard. But human beings don’t come covered in shells. We’re vulnerable, that’s just an inescapable reality.

When you don’t get what you want, you might examine why you wanted it so much. What did this desired thing (person, event) represent to you? Did you think if only you achieved this outcome, then you’d be happy? Then you’d feel seen, heard, understood? Brass rings are wonderful, because they reflect back at us some insecurity. What are we striving for? Acknowledgement? Praise? Love? Acceptance? Power? Immortality? If you can figure out why you want what you want (aside from the ability to keep a roof over your head and the heads of those you treasure), whether you get it or not, you’ll know more about who you are and where you’re at, and if you have healing to do. Happiness comes from the inside of us. Yes, we can meet people, we can gravitate toward people who see us and understand us and cherish us, and why wouldn’t we? Connection is the best thing in life, but if you aren’t happy on the inside, no one and no thing can fix that.

If you get what you want, that can also be a gift. Especially if it doesn’t work quite the way you thought it would. Here I am, holding this brass ring with a huge grin on my face, but how long will it last? Why do I need it to feel validated? Why can’t I validate myself? I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy wonderful things when they happen. I’m just saying it’s enlightening to look at the gifts in getting and not getting, to examine our longing, to understand ourselves. That’s the only way to honor yourself, and to be accountable for the energy you’re spreading as you move through the world. The more you can bring unconscious drives to the surface, the more you’ll be at peace. Unless or until love is at your center, you probably won’t be at peace.

Wishing that for you, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, please find my books here.

Obsessive Thinking

mindyourownbusinessSometimes we “boil ourselves” as my meditation teacher used to say. Something has happened, is happening, or could happen, and we obsess and spiral and get so caught up dwelling on this unwanted turn of events, we lose hours and create incredible stress and pain for ourselves.

This happens frequently around breakups, or in the context of acrimonious relationships. We feel rejected, judged or completely misunderstood, and we go over the details like a detective trying to solve a case. Where was the moment? What was that one thing we said or did that turned the tides and changed things forever? Or we tell and retell our story of how many different ways we were wronged so many times, it becomes mythic. We get caught up in defending ourselves, as if the other person’s opinion is true, even if we know in our hearts it is not. (If you need help snapping out of obsessive thinking, if you’re stuck in a cycle with yourself or someone else that’s causing you pain, try this.) We might replay a conversation that’s already happened, rewriting our lines again and again until we’ve had the perfect comeback in every moment, or we’ve said just the right thing to make everything turn out the way we wish it would have, or we might imagine a conversation that hasn’t happened yet, and get ourselves worked up as though it’s happening exactly this way, right now.

Your nervous system can’t differentiate between a painful conversation you’re actually having, or one you’re rewriting or creating in your head. If your breath is shallow and your blood pressure is going up and your shoulders are around your ears and your jaw is clenching, does it really matter if it’s real or imagined? Your thoughts create chemical reactions in your body, so allowing yourself to fixate on something outside your control can really take a toll, and if it’s happening for an extended period of time, if you find yourself dwelling on your recent or not-so-recent ex, for example,  and what s/he is doing, and with whom s/he’s doing it, it’s really time to pick your mind up and come back to the now. Otherwise it’s like story hour, except the librarian is drunk and angry, the doors are locked, and she keeps reading the same story over and over again.

You can’t redo the past, and you can’t predict the future. You can make yourself sick trying to time-travel, though. There’s no point making yourself nauseated over the great relationship your ex is now having with someone else. Maybe it’s great, and maybe it’s a mess, or maybe they’re three weeks in and getting swept away by hormones, thinking, “This is it!!” People do that all the time, and then when the dust/lust clears, things get real. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter. Your work is always to manage your own mind, heart, choices and actions. If the quality of your thoughts is causing you pain, you have to come back to nurturing yourself.

Loss, fear, grief, rejection, jealousy, insecurity, loneliness, shame and guilt are not easy to lean into, but that’s the best way to release the heat of your feelings. Remembering that feelings are not forever, and they aren’t facts, either, can be enormously helpful. How you feel now is not how you will always feel. Opening to things as they are is empowering and liberating. Releasing your grip on the story and the players, and allowing people to be who they are as the plot unfolds the way it will, is the strongest stance I know. I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight for things, or stand up for yourself or others when that’s the right thing to do. Honest communication is always good; being able to express how things are for you, calmly, and with compassion is beautiful. That’s really the best you can do.

People can only be where they are, they have whatever tools they have. You’re not going to save someone with your love. You’re not going to teach someone the error of their ways. We all have to do our own journeys. Wishing you strength, love, and the hope that you’ll stop boiling yourself if you have been. Love feels a lot better.

Ally Hamilton

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

Free Yourself

Most of us struggle with control and attachment to some degree, thinking if we just try hard enough, we can get life to bend to our will. We start dating someone and want this to be “it” before we even know the other person, before they know us. We’re ready to have a baby, and expect to get pregnant on the first try, or the second. If it hasn’t happened by the third month, we start to get upset. We have our plan, and life needs to get with it, right? Or we want our kids to do well, but maybe our idea of well, and theirs, is different. We want to be promoted, we deserve it, but our boss is a fill-in-the-blank.

I’ve given this a lot of thought. When it comes to human beings and to life, force is a sure recipe for suffering. It’s fine when you want to open jars of almond butter, or remove a tiny Lego piece for your kid, but you can’t force another person to love you or do what you want them to do, or to want what you want them to want, or feel what you want them to feel. Setting intentions is great. It clarifies what it is you’d like, and can inspire your actions every day. That’s a lot different than gripping to an outcome. Things have to go this way or I’ll be miserable. Nothing clouds the vision like attachment. You’re going to be attached to people, that’s part of the human condition; one of the more beautiful parts, actually. Anyone who says differently is fooling themselves or you. We want to be able to hear the voices or the laughs of the people we love most in this world. We want to be able to hug them and kiss them, and if they’re taken from us, we are going to suffer. If you have children, you will be attached to wanting the best for them, wanting them to be healthy and happy and strong. If they are not any of these things, you will suffer.

So some attachment is just part of the gig, unless you want to move to a cave, but as much as possible, open hands, open heart, open mind. Attachment to people comes after love, not before. Loving an idea of a person is not the same as loving a person. Sometimes we meet someone and want them to be this magical person we’ve been waiting for because we’re thirty and the plan was to be married sometime around now, with kids on the way by 32. That’s the kind of attachment that you want to nip in the bud: attachment to our idea of “How Things Should Be,” to that picture in our heads. Life is how it is. It’s not obligated to go along with your plans, and it probably won’t. Maybe something more amazing than anything you’ve planned will unfold.

Sometimes we’re attached to how things were, to a relationship that’s come to an end, for example. We long for the way we felt. We think maybe there’s some way we can get back there, but if a person doesn’t love you for who you are, if they can’t see you anymore, if everything has become dark and no one is shining, allow yourself to be released, even though it hurts like hell. There are some things you’ll never understand. The more you can face reality as it is and work with that, the less you’ll suffer. Be attached to your own discernment. Be attached to working with the truth of a thing even if it breaks your heart. Be attached to the people in your life whom you love beyond words, and understand it makes you vulnerable, and do it anyway. Try to let go of the rest. Life is an adventure. Sometimes it breaks your heart, and sometimes it hits you in the face with so much love it knocks you off your feet and fills your heart with yes. You can’t force that stuff.

You can treat yourself well, though. You can be kind and patient with yourself, and you can do that for other people, too. You can explore what it means to really love someone. Practice on your parents or your friends or your nieces and nephews or a person you’re just getting to know. Practice on yourself. Be curious about acceptance, about looking clearly at someone and listening without allowing your own opinions to block you from hearing them, without allowing your own defenses or wants or needs to prevent you from seeing theirs. Most of the stuff we become fixated on is so meaningless. I think we just lose the thread. Life is to be experienced and examined and explored. Trying to control it is like trying to control the weather.

Sending you love and a giant hug,

Ally Hamilton

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

Want to Have a Happy New Year?

What-the-New-Year-bringsThere are four main tools I think you need in order to be happy. You can cultivate all of them on your yoga mat. Just four, not so bad, right?

The first is a kind and compassionate internal dialogue. I really can’t emphasize what a life-changer this is, especially if you’ve been sharing your inner world with a harsh critic. Sometimes people tell me they believe they need that nasty voice in order to get things done. Without a relentless battering, they feel they’d just be sitting on the couch, letting life pass them by. But I respectfully and passionately disagree with that view. I used to have an incredibly unforgiving inner voice. If I screwed up, even in a small way, I’d berate myself for hours, days, sometimes longer. That, to me, is the definition of prison. It’s so debilitating and painful, it’s a wonder anyone can do anything that way. Full of bitter disappointment with themselves, disgust, frustration, contempt. You really want to feed and nurture a kind and compassionate inner voice. One that roots you on, not one that tears you down. None of us is perfect. We will all blow it sometimes– say or do something we wish we hadn’t, betray ourselves to avoid hurting someone else, lie to avoid confrontation, run, deny, or numb out so we don’t have to look our pain in the face. This is called being human. The idea is to learn and grow and develop tools to make the best choices you can, so you can show up the way you want to for yourself, and for everyone in your life. You’re not going to get it right every minute. Let go of perfectionism, starve a shaming inner voice, and grow a loving one.

The second tool is related to the first. Choose one thought over another. There’s so much power in this. Much of our suffering in this life comes from our own thoughts. Not all of it, and I think that’s really important to acknowledge. There are truly some things that will never fall into the category of, “thank you for this experience.” But short of those devastating losses, we can go a long way toward inner peace by choosing thoughts that strengthen us over the ones that weaken us. There’s no benefit to letting yourself spiral and agonize over something behind you that can’t be changed. And nothing fruitful is gained by obsessing over what could go wrong in the future. Training yourself to pick up your mind and bring it back to right now is like a superpower too few people are using. You don’t have to lose a day, an afternoon, an hour making yourself sick over something you can’t undo or control. In yoga, we use the breath as an anchor point. It’s always occurring in the now. You could pause, close your eyes, and become aware of your inhale and your exhale. Just like that, you’d be present. Awake. Engaged with the moment.

The third is the ability to sit with intense sensation, calmly. What are intense sensations, and what do I mean by “sitting with them”? Loneliness, rage, grief, jealousy, insecurity, shame, doubt, fear, feelings around being betrayed, abused, neglected, abandoned, rejected, or ignored. Those are all intense sensations. On your mat, you can practice breathing through intense physical sensation. Your quad may be on fire from holding Warrior II for twelve breaths, but if you train your mind and your nervous system to stay with it, you’ll find you can face those other emotional intense sensations off of your mat. I’m really talking about non-reactivity. So many people go through life feeling like victims of circumstance, happy when things are going according to their plans, and suffering when they are not. There’s no power in that. You can’t control what life will put on your path. You can’t make someone be something they aren’t, or want something they do not want. But you can work on the way you respond to what you’re given. On the ability to stay centered no matter what is coming at you.

The fourth tool is facing reality as it is. It’s not always going to be the way we want it to be. Sometimes we’ll be lost, heartbroken, confused. A lot of people run when they feel those feelings. Of course we all want the good stuff. We want to feel happy, in love, joyful, inspired, understood. We crave those feelings, and want to avoid the painful stuff. Life is full of both. You’re going to get all of it. You cannot outrun that reality, or deny it, or numb it out, but you can die trying. People tend to think facing those feelings will kill them. It’s the not facing them that does it. Yoga by its very nature is confrontational. Sometimes you’ll show up on your mat full of energy and feeling open and strong. Other days you’ll feel tight and tired. There will be certain poses you love, that feel great in your body, and certain poses you don’t like. The ones you don’t like are usually the ones you need. They’re reflecting back a place where you might be holding tension, physical or emotional. Practicing how we face confrontation is good, since life is full of them. Learning to listen, to respond with honesty, awareness, patience, breath, kindness–these are tools that will serve you well. If you learn to listen to your body that way, if you can give yourself the gifts of respect, understanding, nurturing and acceptance, you’ll be able to do that for other people, too.

Four tools. If you want a happiness guide from me, there you have it. Wishing you the healthiest, most loving, joyful, inspired, HAPPY New Year, yet. If you want to cultivate these tools with me online, just shoot me a comment below and I’ll give you a coupon code. Lots and lots of love, Ally

Start Where You Are

IDIOT-MANIACUnderneath most pain is the desire for connection. We all want to be seen and understood, cherished and explored and known, by at least one other person. Sometimes our “self” was beaten out of us, or scared out of us, or made to burrow down deep because other things were more immediate, like survival. You may have become so accustomed to swallowing your feelings, you don’t even know you’re doing it anymore. You might not know how you feel, or what you want. You may be clueless as to what makes you happy.

Sometimes we have ingrained ideas about ourselves. Maybe people told us we were smart or strong or dependable, and so that’s what we are, even though inside, we’re crumbling from the weight of it. Maybe you were made to feel your value as a person was determined by your looks or your intelligence or your ability to make people laugh, so that’s the stuff you focus on even though it feels empty and makes you a little sick inside. Do you ever feel like you landed on the wrong planet, or you’re living the wrong life? Like you took a wrong turn somewhere, and everything shifted, and now you can’t find your way back to that fork in the road so you can turn things around, so you can find your footing and a path that feels right to you?

The thing is, it’s never too late for that, and that place behind you where you took that turn that you don’t even remember really isn’t the thing. The thing is right now. How are you right now, and what do you need to be okay if you aren’t okay? Is it connection you’re longing for, and are you a stranger in your own home, in your own body? I’d really start there. You are not your body and you are not your thoughts, but you have this body, and it’s been with you from moment one, and it will be with you until your final exhale, and it’s full of wisdom about you, and how you feel and what you need. If there’s trauma in your past, your body is storing that somewhere, and tuning into that might help you discover that fork in the road. You probably weren’t even driving at the time, chances are you were a passenger. Your body is like a road-map of everything, and there’s an incredible potential to know yourself and to understand yourself. That’s the most important connection there is. If you’re detached from your own heart, or spirit, or soul or essence, or whatever you want to call it, it’s going to be very hard for you to find nurturing, lasting connection to anything else. You need a foundation. You need to be able to breathe.

A lot of people don’t breathe. I mean, they breathe enough to get by, but they never tune into the incredible feeling of really breathing. Maybe if they take a deep breath and let it out, a ton of heartache will ride out on that exhale, too. Tears and sobs that break your heart and feel like they’ll never end, like they’ll overwhelm you and do you in, but it’s the not letting them out that does that. So many people live in agony, holding on for dear life, pushing that stuff down, denying its existence, but feeling the need to numb out. Imagine living on top of an active volcano, pretending all is well and wondering why you aren’t happy. Why you feel enraged all the time, or scared, or like a giant fraud. There’s a f&cking volcano underneath you, but you put on your jeans and pop a pill or have a drink or take a hit, and go smiling out the door, even though the smile hurts and the jeans are cutting into your hopes and this dream you had about your life when you were a kid.

This is why I teach, practice, and love yoga and seated meditation. I don’t know of many things that bring you so profoundly into your body and into the now with the foundation of compassion and healing. There’s potential in the now; there isn’t any in the past. It’s over and cannot be rewritten no matter how many dysfunctional relationships you have, or how many people you try to save that way, yourself especially. When I started doing yoga, I had this feeling of finally, finally having come home. Home, and that was huge for me, because I grew up going back and forth between my mom’s and my dad’s from the time I was four. I’d been searching for that feeling of home my whole life, and it was a revelation to me to discover home inside myself. That’s connection. To be at home inside yourself. Then you can feel at home anywhere.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton