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

Are You Crossing the Line?

Sometimes when I’m teaching I’ll see people try to push beyond their flexibility, even at the expense of breathing deeply. They’ll turn purple and grimace, but they won’t back off.  If you’re holding on for dear life, there’s no way you can simultaneously relax and release tension, and there’s no way you can feed a loving voice.

There are so many things that can drive people to override the messages their bodies are sending them. Culturally we’re trained to do that very thing, “No pain, no gain.” It’s suggested to us that we’re in some kind of fight with our bodies, that we have to dominate in order to win, and it’s sad because you live in your body. That’s your home. You really don’t want to be at war inside your own house, but a lot of people live that way, disconnected from the greatest source of wisdom they have.

If you grew up in a family where there were no boundaries, where you felt powerless or scared or like your feelings had no impact on the people and the world around you, you might have a very difficult time recognizing a sign to back off. What would that even look like or feel like? If you’ve been living your whole life having your feelings trampled upon, would you even recognize it if your body was asking you to stop? Or would it seem like second nature to ignore the way you feel? I mean, maybe you’re just totally used to this wrestling match between your intuition and your personality. Your body is saying no, and this “you” you identify with is saying, “hell, yes”. Maybe you don’t know how to honor your feelings, maybe that idea never occurred to you.

If you grew up thinking love was conditional, that it had to be earned, that you could lose it on a dime if you screwed up, you’re going to carry that into every aspect of your life. Sometimes people come up to me after class and apologize for being tired. “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring it today. I’m exhausted.” What? This is your practice. This is your time to nurture yourself. To listen deeply and respond with honesty and compassion. You don’t owe me anything, I’m here for you. You don’t owe me a “strong” class or a lot of energy or nine hundred chaturangas. It has nothing to do with me. You certainly don’t owe me an apology. I’ll take a hug if you want to give me one, but that’s it. We’re square. You showed up and listened to your body? I’m thrilled. Job well done. Go home and get a good night’s sleep. Let’s do it again tomorrow.

Having said all that, I understand the inclination to want to please, to earn, to push yourself so you’re worthy of love. Of course you are worthy of love, you’re made of love, I really believe that; worthiness isn’t even an issue, but you might not know that yet. I lived like that for many years. I played that out with countless teachers, in school, in ballet studios, and in yoga studios, too. I may have apologized for being tired once or twice before I understood what I was doing, before I realized I was bringing all my stuff onto my mat and turning my practice into another place where I beat myself up. It took me years to see that.

The beauty of a consistent yoga practice is that your mat becomes a mirror. It reflects back to you all the places where you still have healing to do, all the tendencies that aren’t serving you. It gives you  quiet time to observe the world within you without categorizing or labeling, just some time to look around and take it in and notice the quality of the relationship you’re having with yourself. To listen to your internal dialogue from a distance, and to starve any voice within you that is unkind, that’s screaming, “Yes you will!”, when your body is saying, “Please, not yet.” Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen, and your practice is a place where you can devote yourself to feeding love, to filling your tank with patience, awareness, honesty and compassion so that you spread those things wherever you go. The beauty is that it’s a gift you give to yourself, your healing process, but it’s also a gift to everyone you encounter, which is why I believe it’s really our work to heal. It’s our responsibility to get right with ourselves so we can offer up the love. The world needs as much love as we can bring to it. It doesn’t need more aggression, denial, or repression, but if you think the world around you could be more peaceful, there’s only one place I know of to start–the world within you.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Icehole Alert!

iceholeFor many people this time of year is loaded with triggers and painful memories, with the desire for something lost, or something yet to be experienced. We have this Norman Rockwell image of “how things should look”. And there are people who do a decent impression from the outside, but every family has its stuff. Because every family is made up of people, and people are complex and vulnerable. Often confused and scared and motivated by their own desires, sometimes unknown even to themselves. But if you’re feeling alone already, there’s nothing like the idea that everyone else has this safe haven, this warm fold in which they’ll be embraced and understood, heard and celebrated, to make you feel like the loneliest person on earth. Few things get us in greater trouble than the picture in our head of how things should be. Things are as they are.

If you talk to people with happy families about heading home for the holidays, they’ll still roll their eyes and let you know they’ll need to sneak away to do their yoga in order to stay sane. And those are the lucky ones. There are people who don’t want to go home, because home sends them back in time, to when they were fifteen, feeling belligerent and powerless all at once. Grown adults with children of their own can revert back to bickering with their siblings like they’re reading from a tattered, ancient script. Old competition for attention or affection can rise to the surface, and even those who’ve done lots of work on themselves can be thrown off center.

There are people with nowhere to go, because going home just isn’t an option. I have a friend whose parents won’t accept the fact that he married his boyfriend. He’s not welcome home. I can’t wrap my head around that. You have a child. Your child is healthy and happy, or trying to be. It’s not easy when your own parents reject you, no matter how much work you do to be okay with it. But sometimes you simply have to make your own family. Just pick the people who know how to love you for who you are. And learn to live with the pain in your heart that the people who brought you into this world can only love you and accept you if you do what they want you to do. If you feel and think the way they want you to feel and think. If you want what they think you should want. That isn’t love. Those are people who don’t understand how to do it. And it’s an incredibly sad loss for them and for you. But it’s not a reflection on you, it’s on them. Let’s drink to that, shall we? Raise a little non-alcoholic, or regular, or vegan eggnog and toast that idea.

And don’t get me wrong. There are people who love going home. People who have healthy relationships with their parents and their siblings. Once in awhile, a couple of people come together, and they figure out how to make it work. How to see each other and hear each other, and feed the love between them so it grows. People who guard and prioritize their love because they understand what a gift it is. When that happens, you have the foundation for something amazing. When you start bringing other people into a mix like that, you’ve got the makings of a happy family. You may not have had one growing up, but you can create one if you want to. My point is, much of our pain comes from our own thoughts. Not all of it; there are things in this world that can just gut you. But a lot of the things we suffer over are our own creation. Our own fantasy of how things are for other people, and how much we don’t have that in our own lives.

I would say compassion for yourself is the number one gift you want in your stocking if you’re having a tough time this year. If you’re spending the holidays on your own, and the sight of people bustling around humming holiday songs to themselves, or cutting you off in traffic on their way to the mall for that last gift is depressing you beyond words, give yourself the gift of some yoga. In fact, I’ll give it to you. Sign up here if you’d like a free 15-day trial to practice yoga with me and all of our amazing teachers. Sneak away from your drunk Aunt Marge, fire up your laptop, and center yourself. Because creating some space between your thoughts is often a lifesaver when you’re in a mental tailspin. It’s like hitting the reset button, so your attention and awareness shift away from what you don’t have, and back to what you do have. The feeling of lack, of longing, is so painful and debilitating. It makes us feel sick. The feeling of gratitude is so beautiful. When you start to focus on anything that is right and good, like maybe your health if you have it, or the love of at least one person who really knows you, or a place to call home, or food in your refrigerator, or the ability to watch the sunrise or set, or to take a deep breath, or go look at the ocean, or hear the laugh of a little kid and remember yourself at that age, your tender heart and your curiosity and your belief in yourself and in other people, your expectation that the world would be a safe place–if you can get a hold of any of that, even for an instant, you can start to feed it.

Don’t let your past hold you hostage. Also, you’re not alone. Really, you’re not. We’ve all had holiday seasons that tested us and made us feel small and scared and sad. It’s called being human. Don’t let it make you hard and closed. Let it soften you. Let it soften your heart so you can be kind to yourself. So you can acknowledge and hold the feelings of heartache or despair or rage or resentment. If you lean into them you’ll see they won’t kill you. Avoiding them could, because that’s when you have to back yourself into a little corner and squeeze your eyes shut, and cover your ears and hold your breath. Let it be how it is, because how it is now is not how it will always be. Sending you love, and hoping you’re having a beautiful holiday season, but letting you know there are people who care if you aren’t. In case you weren’t sure. Ally Hamilton

Force is Good for Opening Jars of Peanut Butter

Frequently when I’m teaching, I’ll see someone “force a pose.” I can talk until I’m blue in the face about the transition from bound side angle pose to bird of paradise, for example, I can emphasize the importance of a long spine, a top shoulder opening toward the sky, and of course, the ability to breathe with ease, and undoubtedly, someone will start hopping their back foot forward, even though they’re hunched over, grunting, turning purple, and can in no way begin to really stand on the standing leg. There are many reasons I’ll shut this down. Obviously there’s the risk for physical injury–straining the low back, compromising the bound shoulder, stressing the hamstrings of both legs, but there’s also the emotional injury.

I fully believe in the saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” If someone is forcing it on their mat, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re forcing it in their life, too. Relationships that don’t feel right, jobs that don’t fit, ideas about themselves that are old or untrue. When we chase someone we’re forcing it, romantically or otherwise. If you have to sell yourself or dance like a monkey to earn someone’s attention or affection, that’s forcing it. If you try to fit yourself into the mold you think you must in order to be accepted, that’s forcing it. When you’re in something, and you know in your heart it just isn’t right, but you close your eyes and plug your ears and hold on for dear life because you simply cannot face reality as it painfully is, that’s forcing it, and all of that will lead to injury.

It’s painful to your true self when you refuse to accept what is real for you, because deep down, we all know. We know when something is flowing, and we know when something is dying. Denial, repression, numbing, running for dear life, none of it works. You can’t escape yourself, or your beautiful, truthful heart. Your fruit, your gifts, will shrivel and die on the branch if you insist on staying rooted in something that you know is just not right. Not for you, anyway.

There are so many understandable reasons people force it. Fear of the unknown, desire for stability in a spinning world, an inability to love themselves, to accept, forgive, embrace, cherish, honor, and celebrate themselves. I really believe we’re all here to give whatever we’ve got. Why else would you be able to love, or feel despair, or shame, or joy, or heartache, or fear, or intense, piercing gratitude? You have this instrument, your body, and you can take it for a ride. You can see what it’ll do with enough patience and compassion and kindness. How it might open for you, or strengthen, or more fluidly take you from point A to point B, and you have all those same possibilities with your heart, your spirit, your essence, your soul, whatever you want to call it. The you-est you there is, how’s that? You get to take that you for a spin, too. You get to see what lights you up, and what shuts you down, and what you need in order to grow and thrive and offer up the very best of yourself. You get to see if you can love in the way that includes acceptance and real seeing and listening and understanding. You get to figure out what scares you, and what you need to heal so you can open more.

I mean, you don’t have to do these things. In some places what I’m suggesting would seem radical and unsafe. For some people a rigid plan is a necessity. Following a logical progression, toeing the line, hitting the milestones, that seems like “the way”, but I tried that, and I’ll bet most of you have, too. We aren’t robots. There is no formula for what it is that will bring you peace or joy. That’s an adventure you choose to take, or you don’t, but I don’t know many people who toe the line and end up happy. You can try to fit into some idea you’ve been sold since before you could speak. That’s what I’d call forcing it. Or you could grab your courage by the you-know-whats and find your own way. You’ll have to at some point, anyway, if you want to be happy. Freedom and ease will never be the result of force. If you can’t breathe, you’re forcing it.

Sending you love, and wishing you deep, easy breathing,

Ally Hamilton

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

Stop It!!

Sometimes our expectations of ourselves are completely unrealistic. If you tend to be a perfectionist, if you fall into the Type A category, I really feel for you. I often joke that after twenty-plus years of yoga practice six days a week, I’m a 93% recovered Type A personality, 97% on a good day. I spent years beating myself up, and I can still fall prey to that tendency if I’m feeling tired, tested, or vulnerable.

There are good things about doing your very best all the time. That’s a great way to move through the world, and it really helps when it comes to putting action behind your intentions, but if you set the bar at perfection, you’re in for trouble, because no one is perfect, and you really don’t want to walk around feeling disappointed in yourself all the time. Shaking your head because you said or did something you wish you hadn’t, because you didn’t show up the way you wanted to, because you let someone down, or blew a chance to have compassion for someone. No one operates from their highest selves in every moment, we all blow it sometimes. When you’re used to driving yourself, it can be really hard to find that forgiving voice when you need it.

Berating yourself for hours or days because you’re fallible is a precious waste of energy. The voice inside your head that says, “You suck! I can’t believe you could be so stupid or careless or lame, or fill-in-the-blank”, is so debilitating. Whatever has happened is done, and dwelling on one moment or one interaction you’d love to have back so you could do it over again serves no one. Figuring out what went wrong so you can make a better choice the next time is productive, but relentlessly thrashing yourself around is not. If you’re consistently kind, patient, loyal, trustworthy, sensitive and thoughtful, most people will find it in their hearts to forgive you when you blow it once in awhile, especially if you acknowledge it and apologize. Most people just want to be understood; they want to know that you realize why this thing that happened was painful or disappointing or upsetting. If a person feels heard and understood, most of the time forgiveness follows, unless you’re dealing with another perfectionist, and there’s the rub. If you can’t be reasonable about expectations for yourself, it’s not going to be easy to cut other people a little slack, either. Sometimes we rake ourselves over the coals to such an unhealthy degree, the result is self-loathing and depression, and if we hold other people to the same standard, we alienate them. No one can live up to that. Can you imagine living with someone who never gave you a break, who never extended understanding or affection when you needed it most?

Many people live with an inner dialogue that is so harsh and unkind, it’s a wonder they get anything done. Your internal dialogue is your constant companion; it can be your best friend, or your worst nightmare. I remember reading a piece in the New York Times many years ago, about not making your children feel their mistakes are sins. If there’s no difference between forgetting to clean your room, for example, and cheating on a test, or lying, or stealing something, how are you to figure out what’s a bummer, and what is really not okay? If you’re punished equally for everything, and if that punishment is painful and scary, the message is that any mistake is a problem. Any moment you failed to be perfect renders you unworthy of love and unsafe. Who wouldn’t want to give up?

The other thing that’s important to get is that the longer you replay old events, the more you rob yourself of what’s happening right now. You take the potential for joy, peace or love right out of the current moment. You’re not here, you’re back there, but there’s no potential back there, and that’s the root of stress and anxiety. We find ourselves in one place, but we want to be in another. We rewrite the conversation, changing the way we responded, or coming up with the perfect retort, but it’s already over, so we’re living in a fantasy, we’re time traveling. Sometimes we do it the other way, too. We “future trip”, and make ourselves anxious over mistakes we’re afraid we could make, ways we could blow it.

If this is all familiar to you, I really suggest you get yourself a six-foot piece of rubber. I’m talking about a yoga mat. I can’t swear that it will work for you, but I can say I was able to accomplish two huge, life-changing shifts through steady practice. The first is that I learned to use my breath and sensations in my body to stay rooted in the now. I’d spent so many years “up in my head”, this was a revelation to me. Being in my body, being aware of my breath, being engaged with and curious about the present moment, without all that chatter drowning out the peace? Amazing. The second is that when I got quiet like that, I realized the relationship I was having with myself was incredibly unkind, and I simply refused to continue to feed that harsh inner critic. When it would arise, I’d come back to my breath and back to compassion for myself. I tend to believe if I could do that, anyone can — it’s why I teach. If you’re tormented by your thoughts all day, there’s simply no way you can spread love as you move through the world. I’ve come to believe that’s really what we’re here to do. In order to spread it, you have to be brimming with it, and the funny thing is, if you get quiet and strip away enough layers of rage, shame, blame, regret and fear, you will find love. If you feed it, it will grow and blossom within you, and then it will blossom around you. You might think you get stuff done because you have an inner voice that’s demanding and dissatisfied all the time, but I promise you when your inner voice is rooting you on, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Sending you love, and wishing you the gift of a kind inner voice,

Ally Hamilton

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

Why It’s Good if You Feel Angry, Depressed and Alone

thetruthwillsetufreebutfirstA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about forgiveness. I got lots of emails, one from a woman who’d just found out her husband had been having an affair. This came to light just hours before the article was posted, and she told me she was struggling to forgive him. Last night I was talking to a friend of mine, and she told me that one of her closest friends had betrayed her over a business opportunity. She said she knew there was a lesson in it somewhere, that she’d known her friend operated this way, but that there were also amazing things about her. She felt the onus was on her since she’d been aware, and had remained close to her friend, anyway. Here’s the thing…

Read the rest of the article at:


There are certain things in this life that are so heartbreaking it’s hard to know how to process them; where to go, what to think, how to breathe. Sometimes we suffer losses that are so knifing, all we can do is try to find a way to move forward, to open, to feel joy, to have hope again. When we’re in the midst of heartache like this, just getting through is enough. Grief is personal, there’s no certain time limit or formula, you just allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel, and to ask for and accept help when you need it. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to ask, because you’ll have people in your life who know how to show up for you.

Short of that kind of devastation, much of our suffering is created by our own thoughts. The ability to choose one thought over another is powerful and worth honing. This comes up in small ways and large. If someone cuts you off on the freeway, you don’t have to respond with anger, curse them inside your head, flip them the bird, or allow your blood pressure to go up. You could simply focus on your breath, on the steering wheel underneath your fingertips, on the beautiful sunny day, or the dark stormy sky. If someone you know, or someone you don’t says or does something thoughtless, you don’t have to take it personally, you don’t have to judge them or condemn them or feed your own self-loathing if that’s your tendency. Maybe the crazy driver is having a really tough time right now. Maybe the thoughtless person cried herself to sleep last night. Maybe not. Maybe they’re selfish and thoughtless all the time. Even so, that can’t be an easy way to live. Regardless, you could choose compassionate thoughts, because they feel better than angry thoughts. The world really doesn’t need more aggression or apathy, and since you can’t control the behavior of other people, you could turn your attention to creating a peaceful world within you.

It’s not easy to choose the thoughts that strengthen us rather than weaken us when we’re feeling judged, shamed, misunderstood, betrayed, rejected, shunned, or are having a hard time forgiving ourselves for a mistake, but if you’ve examined something from every angle and learned all you can, nothing productive will come from obsessing over a situation. You’ll just deplete your energy and make yourself sick. I realize this is so hard when there’s a lack of closure. Few things in life get wrapped up in neat little boxes, though. Life is messy and human beings are complex, and frequently driven by unconscious motivations and desires. Most people don’t set out to be cruel or unkind. Not everyone is able to face their fallibility or vulnerability, some people run like hell from that stuff. There are many times when acceptance is all the closure you’re going to get. Even if you understand the why’s and how’s of a situation, the heart speaks in its own language. Logic doesn’t help much when all you want is love or a hug or some understanding from one particular person, and you just can’t get it.

You can’t make people see you, forgive you, understand you or love you. You can’t make anyone faithful or happy or accepting or open-minded. People either are these things, or they are not. You can always look at those situations that have caused you pain and examine your own participation. Maybe you allowed yourself to be treated badly, and if so, it would be very useful to understand why. Maybe you overrode your own intuition because you were attached to an outcome. Maybe you got caught in the trap of selling yourself, even though you’re one in seven billion. So looking at this stuff can be illuminating, or extremely painful, or a very necessary part of your healing process, or all of those things, but after awhile, there’s nothing new to learn. Once you’ve held a situation up to the light, looked at whatever you brought to the table, tried to communicate, apologize, understand, or heal as the case may be, you really have to find a way to put the thing down. You don’t want to let a past hurt rob you of too much of your now or your future.

When you notice you’re spiraling, allowing your mind to head back to a topic you’ve already exhausted, the trick is to catch yourself as quickly as possible. To pick your mind up and bring it back to your breath (always happening in the now, and therefore a very grounding tool when you notice you’ve traveled into your past or future). Then you train your mind on thoughts that will bring you steadiness and peace. Time helps take the sting out of things. I don’t believe it “heals all wounds”, but I think if you’re willing to allow yourself to truly feel all of your feelings around painful events, that also releases the heat. You aren’t here to obsess and close yourself off and shut yourself down. If a person cannot see you for the amazing and beautiful gift you are, allow yourself to be released. Forgive yourself when you need to, and get back to the business of being awesome.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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