Yesterday I finished the fourth and final session of a girls’ empowerment course that I was teaching every other week for an hour at a local community center.
During the third session I had an eye-opening realization working with these young women (ages 12-14). We got into a discussion of safety and violence, and once again my privilege slapped me in the face. Many of these women had observed or experienced violence in their families or with close loved ones in ways I am unlikely to ever understand.
I had begun reading the book “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Manakem. I wish I had discovered it when I first designed the course. There are many amazing practices that are yoga-like to help both black bodies, white bodies, and police bodies heal the trauma of racism in America.
I managed to teach “legs up the wall” pose first as a calming pose. Then we laid on the floor to do belly breathing for a couple of minutes and to notice where we felt the breath. We tried crocodile (on our bellies) to again notice where we felt the breath. After a few cat/cow transitions, there was silliness and I realized 15 minutes of yoga was the upper limit for this group on this day.
Though this group of women rejected “yoga” when I attempted it on the first class, by starting with legs up the wall, as a way to calm the nervous system, they seemed open to the other poses as well. Less talking, more demonstrating and practice in the future. Good lessons for me.
I thanked this group for being my teachers in this class. They seemed surprised that I would put it like that. But they taught me far more than I could teach them.
On the eve of another 3-day yoga teacher training weekend (#6 of 7), even if I am unable to count those hours toward my practicum requirement as initially planned, I am profoundly grateful.
This is an edited post originally written in April 2018. It is even more relevant as I learn to embody these concepts through soma yoga, and coach using somatic awareness as a tool for accessing inner wisdom.
One of my favorite meditations from Insight Timer is by Anna Guest-Jelly called “May I Know What I Know.” It involves a body scan in which we are moved through body starting with the feet, and moving through each region. After the exercise, we consider if there are any places we could not feel, that may have been “offline” from our awareness, so to speak.
The more I practice this body awareness and deliberately tune into places in the body that may be mysterious, the more I tune into my emotions. Sometimes I realize why there are “frozen” parts – those emotions may be difficult ones, like grief or anger.
I am still learning to feel those emotions all the way through, and sit with them without trying to escape. It is an exercise in compassion and patience to realize I have habitually escaped those feelings, or pushed them under with distraction, food, or other buffers (like busy-ness or overwork) rather than to be still with them.
Now that I realize these feelings are an important emotional compass, I have begun to “invite myself back” more often. I tune into that channel – my gut, my shoulders, my back, sometimes my lower spine, when they are trying to tell me something. Rather than get lost in thought, and spinning mental energy, I aim to come back to the body, invite my whole self back.
This tendency to abandon the body and thus abandon ourselves is promoted by our culture. Feeling our emotions and tuning into our intuition often dismissed. But as I do it more, I acknowledge the many times when I have buried my own desires in favor of pleasing other people.
Women are well-conditioned to attend to others’ needs. We take care of partners, children, bosses, teammates, even parents sometimes. But we do not always attend to our own bodies, our own yearnings. I inadvertently learned (from family and culture) that I should ignore my own needs in favor of taking care of others. This abandonment does not serve us long-term though.
Even the airlines tell us to put on our own mask before helping others. Inviting ourselves back can feel like a radical act of rebellion for women. Patriarchy demands we attend to the comfort of our family members, remain small and and of service, never demanding anything for ourselves. And yes, I think it is patriarchy that promotes this idea of the “good daughter” and it is one we must dismantle.
When we invite ourselves back, we ground ourselves in our truth. We allow ourselves to live in greater harmony with nature, and with our bodies. We begin to understand the connected nature of all people, of all parts of the universe. We feel compassion for ourselves and for others in their struggles. We make different choices that are more sustainable for ourselves. We serve others with a spirit of generosity rather than resentment.
Inviting ourselves back means we set appropriate boundaries. We say no to things that do not align with our purpose or intention. That can be very hard for those of us who were trained to say “yes” to everything we are asked to do. We can be perceived as “uppity” or trouble-makers, or not those nice girls we used to be.
It is a daily practice, inviting ourselves back. It does not simply happen one day, and then all things change. It is a conscious choice, a habit that grows easier with regular practice. If we want to make sustainable change in the world, I believe it is non-negotiable. The world needs our whole and integrated selves. Our souls call for this as well.
Consider inviting yourself back today. Center on what your body is telling you. See what emerges as you learn to pay attention in this way.
**The following is a post shared first on my LinkedIn page on Sunday, January 20th.**
As I write this, I am taking a break from some preparation for an upcoming workshop on “Embodying the Leader Within You” on January 27th. This has involved reviewing some of the beautiful and rich wisdom of my favorite authors, as well as reflecting on my journey in the past 2-3 years.
I realize that I have been trying to boil it all down, to distill the essence and meaning of what I have learned, so that I can share it in a way that is accessible. The “researcher” within me wants to create an annotated bibliography of all sorts of wonderful resources that have helped me see the world in new ways. But the intuitive wisdom that has become embodied in my years of practice and experience tell me to back off from that approach.
My 4-week learning circle to be offered at Tula in February is a more full attempt to capture the energy and connections I want to build between women. With more time, and with sessions that will be spread out, there will be opportunities for practice and contemplation in between. Respecting the “learning rhythm” of all participants, and recognizing that it is not just knowledge but PRACTICE that allow us to fully embody our gifts, we have more time to explore. We have time to connect with each other, to allow our energy to flow and to catalyze action for ourselves and others.
When we ask ourselves what we know, and allow ourselves to know what we know, the relevant points come to the surface. It is a little different from the logical and scholarly route I was taught throughout my academic training. Embodied knowledge is a felt sense of truth, that resonates throughout our body, with a vibration that can feel like electric current. Pretty wild, actually.
At the core of this is understanding that we are all connected, that we are all in this together. This is why connecting with others who are on a similar journey is relevant. It helps us feel and know that we are supported. It provides a safe container where we can ask powerful questions, and allow ourselves to grow in new ways.
If I can facilitate that kind of environment and create and hold space for others’ journeys, it will be a great privilege. If you want to be part of the inaugural group, please use the link below to sign up:
I had to share this post because Julie speaks to many of the issues I have experienced in my past struggles with food and diets. I love her notion of being curious rather than ashamed of our appetites and preferences. Treating our bodies with compassion and respect has more positive results than continuing the war with ourselves by dieting.
This post will be short and sweet. I just want to acknowledge and celebrate my 600th consecutive day of meditation and/or yoga according to my Insight Timer app. Yay! I guess I can count that habit as a consistent one, the practice of being mindful of thoughts, emotions, my body and sometimes the space around me as well.
There is probably a Buddhist admonition not to take pride in one’s meditation. Something about ego and all of that. But I am proud of establishing the habit and I am not Buddhist. So I am going to own it and celebrate! Cheers!
What daily or weekly habits serve you best in your life?
The following is an edited blog from February 2018, pre-scheduled while I travel. Good reminders as we embark on the journey.
One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.
To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.
For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.
In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.
This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.
This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.
But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.
It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.
It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!