May is Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s OK to not be OK.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 5.7%-8% of adults suffer from depression. Close to 1 billion people worldwide have a mental health condition. Yet nearly 2/3 of people with a known mental health condition
never seek treatment.

Yoga can be a powerful tool for managing mental and emotional well being. But here’s the thing: it’s not the only thing.

There’s a troubling strain of toxic positivity that is often perpetuated by folks in Western yoga and wellness spaces. This “good vibes only” mentality creates separation and causes real harm. It contributes to the idea that “if I were a serious practitioner of yoga, I would feel only positive emotions all of the time.” Or that therapy, medication, and other therapies are “unnatural” and somehow antithetical to the practice of yoga. This is patently untrue and only serves to prevent those who need help from getting it.

Yoga spaces should be places of healing and liberation, not exclusion and stigma.

Yoga is a powerful tool for mental and emotional well being. It can be an excellent complement to therapy. But yoga is not a replacement for therapy. If you need additional help, know that it’s ok to get it. You are not alone.

Yoga spaces should help create more access to mental health support, not further limit it.

Why you (yeah, you!) should be practicing restorative yoga

You might think restorative yoga is too slow and passive to be beneficial. I’m gonna tell you why you’re wrong.

Restorative yoga is a very gentle, slow, still practice that involves holding a short series of passive postures for longer periods of time, sometimes for five minutes or longer. Poses may be prop-assisted, using bolsters, blocks or blankets.

That sounds lovely, you may be thinking, but how is it yoga? Sounds like a nap to me. I thought yoga was stretching and stuff.

Well, here’s where I’m gonna blow your mind: I happen to think restorative is one of the most advanced practices in yoga.

I said what I said.

Listen, we live in times of prolonged stress and anxiety. Late-stage capitalism, war, an unending pandemic, heteronormative patriarchy, white supremacy, the 24-hour news cycle, an endless stream of social media ridiculousness…I could go on and on. We’re worried about each other and our families and our friends and our livelihoods. We’re worried about society. Our nervous systems have been on high alert way longer than they’re designed to be.

That much stress can result in interrupted sleep, feelings of isolation and loneliness, anxiety about the uncertainty of the future. All of this has very real implications for our mental and physical health. While it would be irresponsibly naive to suggest that restorative yoga can solve all or even any of the world’s complex and systemic problems, it can be a very powerful tool for helping our nervous systems become calmer and more balanced so we don’t suffer the ill health effects that come with sustained levels of stratospheric stress on the daily.

Restorative yoga activates the parasympathetic or relaxation response in the body, which helps to balance the nervous system. This allows our bodies and minds to experience deep healing and rest – something that is needed now more than ever.

A restorative yoga practice is highly internal, in many ways more like an embodied form of meditation than a physical asana practice. While a more active yoga class involves stretching and building strength, the work in restorative yoga is in the release. But make no mistake: this is work. Our society emphasizes and rewards effort, striving, hustling, grinding. When we come to the mat in restorative yoga, there is none of that. We begin to notice the places in our bodies where we might be holding tension, and invite those places within us to release. We notice our thoughts cranking up as our bodies become still, and we invite that to release, too. When we stop running, all that stuff we’ve been running from has the opportunity to catch up.

Restorative yoga is a great companion to talk therapy, which is why I teach a weekly restorative yoga class at a mental wellness clinic. What we do on the mat can help us integrate the things we’re learning and discovering in therapy, and therapy can help us process what comes up on the yoga mat. If you have a history of trauma, this practice can bring incredible healing. I highly recommend finding a trauma-informed yoga teacher who knows how to help you stay safe and grounded in practice.

Restorative yoga has all kinds of amazing benefits. Apart from allowing us to relax our bodies and still our minds, it helps to boost immunity, facilitate better sleep, and release muscular tension that contributes to chronic pain and stress in the body.

So, I’ve convinced you, right? But wait: there’s more!

One of the best things about restorative yoga is that it’s accessible to everyone! Anyone can do it regardless of fitness level. Practicing at home and don’t have props? A firm pillow or couch cushion makes a great bolster. A thick book or two, a sturdy box or low stool can give the support of a block. (I’ve even seen someone use two full rolls of paper towels as blocks, and it worked pretty well!)

Finally, restorative yoga is a way to send some compassion to yourself during an unprecedented and extremely stressful time. It’s important (and very healing) for us to look at each other, to look at ourselves, and say, “I see you. I see your struggle.” I think we can all benefit from a little more compassion right now. When we heal, we help heal those around us.

I invite you to give restorative yoga a try! Consider it an act of resistance against the forces of stress, anxiety, overstimulation, oppressive systems, and unceasing noise of the modern world.

Slow down. Be well. Love y’all.

Five Simple Steps to Create More Mindful Mornings

Want to create more ease in your day? These simple rituals may make a morning person out of you yet!

When you think of the word “ritual,” what leaps to mind?

GIF of a scene from the film "Midsommar", featuring two circles of women, one inner circle and one outer circle, hands joined, dancing around a may pole.

A ritual is simply a set of gestures, words, or actions that are performed according to a set sequence. 

Rituals can be used to mark the beginning or the end of an event; they can be used to savor (think of a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, or the specific protocols in a wine tasting); they can be used to bring luck (think of athletes engaging in a huddle and cheer before heading in to the big game). Maybe you think of a religious ritual. Or the specific way your family observed a particular holiday when you were growing up. Weddings. Funerals. Graduations. Even the order in which you apply skin care products in the morning could be considered a ritual!

I’m going to show you how you can use the quiet power of ritual to bring some ease into your morning – so that you can face whatever comes your way from a place of peace and equanimity.

I discovered the benefits of a morning ritual a few years ago. Like most Americans, I had developed the habit of being awakened by an alarm, then immediately picking up my phone and scrolling through news, emails and social media. As you can imagine, that habit didn’t contribute to a peaceful start to my day – in fact, it did the opposite. 

So I set up a simple morning ritual to help me. I still use my phone as my alarm clock (flipped face down so the light doesn’t wake me up). I found a peaceful ringtone to help me wake up gently. Upon waking, I start a pot of coffee. Then I feed my dog and let him out. I pour my first cup of coffee, sit in my favorite spot on the sofa, maybe wrap myself in a blanket if it’s chilly, light a candle and then light either incense or a palo santo stick to clear the energy around me. I meditate for about ten minutes. Then I go on about my day. Top to bottom, it clocks in under a half hour. But it makes ALL the difference.

This simple ritual does a few things for me. First, it ensures that I wake up easy: if I hit snooze, I might be getting a few minutes of extra sleep, but it means I have to rush around in the morning, and I find rushed energy jangling, even painful. Second, it sets a tone of quiet peace, gratitude, and reverence. Third, it helps me cultivate mindfulness and equanimity. Finally, it gives me a sense of agency over my day: no matter what happens as I move through my day, I get to decide the pace and frame of mind I bring to it. That’s empowering!

Your morning ritual doesn’t have to look like mine. It should resonate with you, it should be something you’ll actually want to do, and it should include whatever gives you a sense of peace, joy, and ease. As few as 3-5 minutes, or as long as half an hour or more – it’s up to you! 

Here are five tips for creating a simple ritual you can use to bring ease and meaning into your mornings.

  1. Give yourself a little extra time in the morning. Even an extra 10 minutes in the morning can be more than enough time to make space for a simple ritual that will support you throughout your day.
  2. The idea here is to keep things low-key and quiet, limiting sensory input until you’ve had a chance to acclimate to waking. Keep lights dim, and avoid digital devices or other electronics as well as any media or messaging. 
  3. Limit interaction with other people during this time, if possible. Take time for you.
  4. Feather your nest. If you enjoy coffee, tea, or warm water with lemon in the morning, consider making preparation of your beverage of choice part of your ritual. Find a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. Light a candle, light incense or ring a little bell to clear the energy if you choose. Roll out your yoga mat, or nestle into a favorite comfy chair. Anything that feels nurturing is fair game. 
  5. Choose quiet activities that nourish you and give you a sense of peace. These can include meditation or prayer, journaling, yoga or other gentle movement, taking a beloved pet for a short morning walk, watching the sun rise, setting an intention for your day, practicing an instrument, reciting a mantra, or just sitting in silence. All are great ways to start a new day.

Morning isn’t the only time for ritual. The end of the work day and before bedtime are great times to incorporate rituals to support your well-being. I’ll share mine with you in future posts.

Rituals all day! Let’s do this!

Do you have a favorite morning ritual? I’d love to hear what works for you! Let me know in the comments. 

Want to cultivate awareness? Try this short centering practice.

How are you doing?

We’re asked all the time, but it’s not always an easy question to answer honestly. It requires us to slow down and notice how we’re doing – not something we often take the time to do. It feels easier to answer with the automatic and perfunctory “Fine.”

When we are uncomfortable, often we rush to diagnose and fix, or start throwing solutions at the situation to see what sticks, or distract ourselves so that we don’t have to feel anything we don’t want to feel. But when we do that, we’re not really living.

So I’d like to share with you a simple practice to help you cultivate awareness and acceptance of your current condition, as it is in the present moment. You’ll simply observe yourself in the present moment, using the five senses and then turning inward to observe thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. Your only tasks are to notice and allow whatever is, as it is, with no judgement.

Ready to give this a try?

Find a comfortable seat. Your eyes can be open or closed. Just allow yourself to notice your breath. No need to speed up or slow down or change the breath in any way. Just let it be as it is, and notice it.

Then, notice the ways in which your body is experiencing your environment through your five senses:

What can you feel with your sense of touch? Notice the feel of your feet touching the ground, your legs and seat on your cushion or chair, the place where your hands make contact with your legs as they rest in your lap. Notice the feeling of your clothing touching your body. Notice the temperature in the room, and the way the air feels on your skin.

Then, notice the ways you are experiencing sight. If your eyes are open: what can you see? And if your eyes are closed, can you perceive any light or shadow?

What sounds can you hear? Can you hear any sounds from outside your space (cars driving by, people talking outside, birds singing, rain)? Any sounds inside your space (heating or air conditioning, a fan, a pet moving around)?

What, if anything, can you smell? Incense? A candle? Something cooking in the kitchen?

What, if anything, can you taste? Toothpaste, coffee or tea, the lingering taste of food you’ve eaten?

Notice all of these things, without judgement. Then, turn your attention within.

What sensations can you feel within the body?

Can you sense a feeling or emotion? Simply notice and allow it as it is.

Can you sense energy within the body? Where is the energy moving? Where is it not moving?

Notice your mind. Are any thoughts present? Again, simply observe any thoughts as they are. No need to try to prevent them or attach to them. Simply notice and allow them to be present.

See if you can spend a couple of minutes simply observing all of these things: your body, your mind, your emotions, your energy, your breath.

Inhale deeply through your nostrils. Then, slowly exhale. If your eyes are closed, open them.

Take a look around the physical space where you are. Maybe notice four or five things you can see. Be aware of your presence in this moment.

When we slow down long enough to notice our condition as it is in the present moment, we become much more aware and more accepting of ourselves, no matter what’s going on with us. Simply noticing and allowing what is truly going on with us is such a powerful tool because it allows us to be aware, without rushing to judge our experience.

I made a video to help guide you through this practice. Check it out here.

This simple practice is here for you, anytime you need it. I hope it serves you!

Making space for gratitude

From a mindfulness perspective, which is all about being in the present moment, gratitude allows us to notice the blessings, but also invites us to find balance in life’s challenges. Because let’s face it: life is full of both beautiful gifts and great difficulty. (Sometimes both at the same time.)

So gratitude, from the perspective of mindfulness, is not about laying a screen of toxic positivity over everything and saying, “Be thankful! Look how much better you have it than other people!” or “You should stop focusing on your difficulty, look how much you have to be grateful for.” Blessings and difficulty are both equally real. Ups and downs are a part of life, and it can feel really terrible when you’re experiencing hardship and someone tells you “It’s all for the best” or “It’s all part of God’s plan” and “Cheer up! It could be so much worse!” (By the way: don’t do that, y’all. It’s always better just to say “I’m so sorry you’re having a rough time.” And if you’re so moved, maybe follow up with “How can I best support you right now?”)

Practicing gratitude isn’t about glossing over what’s challenging. It’s the intentional practice of noticing what’s good – whether that’s the people in your life, or your home, or your pets, or good health if you’re so fortunate, or a beautiful sunset, or a piece of music that moved you. Not to negate the challenges, but just to keep a balanced view. We can hold both conditions as equally true: yes, this thing is deeply challenging and really hard; and yes, I can point to things that are good and that make me feel grateful.

A gratitude practice can improve your overall quality of life in a number of ways. It can improve your mood, help you sleep better, lower your heart rate, lower your stress levels, help you access compassion for yourself and others, and just improve your outlook on life.

There’s no one way to make a regular gratitude practice part of your life. You can keep a gratitude journal where you list maybe 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day. You can set a timer that reminds you to stop and notice where you are and how you’re feeling, and to identify a couple of things you’re grateful for in that moment. You can do a guided meditation, or take a “sense and savor” walk, not to get anywhere in particular but where you walk along and stop and linger on anything that catches your attention. Spend as much time with this thing as you would like before moving on. Notice how it feels, notice its color, its smell, whatever – and savor it.

Stay safe, be well, and enjoy the abundance that comes your way!

Sometimes you gotta play hurt.

The Buddhists say that all life is suffering. It’s the first of the Four Noble Truths.

Suffering isn’t constant, of course. We all experience hard times, and they inevitably pass or at least get better. This too, we say, shall pass. And it’s true.

The Four Noble Truths go on to tell us that our suffering is caused by attachment to that which we desire. If we can learn to release our attachment, we will no longer suffer. This sounds very esoteric, but it isn’t. My mother once told me a story from her childhood. She wanted her father to buy her something (I forget what the thing was – but some object of her desire). She was told no. She protested. So my grandfather asked her, “Does it hurt you to want it?” She replied, whimpering, that it did. And he responded, “Then stop wanting it.”

I’m fairly certain that my Nazarene minister grandfather was not versed in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. But he did hit on something very important: It is the attachment that causes the suffering. We want a thing we do not have, or that someone else has. We wish for things that are one way to be another way. We do it all the time. And please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not dogging desire. Our desire is what propels us forward. Without desire, there would be no aspiration, no striving. Just so we know, though: it is our attachment to desire that leads to suffering.

Life is full of suffering, from first-world problems to devastating trauma. The dishwasher floods the kitchen. We lose the election. The lover leaves. The job falls through. Our child is in trouble. We get the diagnosis. Suffering is all around us, and we experience it on both the individual and a global scale. We carry that weight, and the toxic stress that attends it.

But we’ve got things to do. Life goes on. We have bills to pay and children to raise and work the next morning and people for whom we care and who love and need us. If we collapse under the weight of every setback, we stop showing up for ourselves and those we love. We lose our happiness and then our health. We cease to function. We lose our sense of purpose, that striving – the desire that keeps us alive even as we suffer.

So we have to find a way to keep moving forward. There are plenty of approaches people take to this. I mean, you’ve got options. You can…

-Continue to white-knuckle your way through. Suppress your grief and fear. Show no signs of cracking. Build that wall, baby.

-Kill the pain. Shop it away, eat it away, drink it away, screw it away, sink into the anesthetic of screen time fantasyland, dull it, numb it, avoid feeling it by whatever means is available to you.

-Blame someone else. Your asshole ex, your boss, “those other people,” politicians, God, the world. Focus on your self-righteous anger so that you don’t actually have to face that your problems are sitting there, not evaporating, waiting patiently and probably piling up while you rant and rave to avoid feeling your own heart break.

-Continue operating as though nothing is wrong, because this situation is painful but at least it’s not unknown. Change is terrifying. Remain inert. Hope that perhaps someone else, or the situation, will change so you don’t have to.

You can do any or all of those things, and I’ve tried a few of them myself. Maybe you have too. And in so doing, we hurt ourselves and others. But there are other ways to cope with the debilitating pain and loss and grief that is in our human condition to feel. And cope we must, because we are friends and partners and parents and children of parents. We must, because none of us is an island. All of us are connected – we are one with each other and with whatever name by which we call God. When we hurt, the world hurts. And by healing ourselves, we heal those around us.

Maybe you are suffering. Maybe you are scared. And yet you still have to hold your whole shit together. That is something I can help you with, if you need it. But I want you to do more than just stay upright and muscle through. I want you to experience the beauty and joy of living, the promise of liberation, even as you are experiencing very real pain. I promise you: you can do this. You can emerge with strength you never imagined you had, and with insight no person or set of circumstances can ever take away from you. I know because I did it and continue to do it, and I’m no different from you.

I’ll be sharing stories and resources on this blog, and I’m working on developing a workshop that will incorporate yoga and meditation with other tools to take a holistic approach to dealing with the adversity we all experience as long as we’re breathing on this earth.

This too shall pass. But until it does, you’ve gotta play hurt. Give me a shout. You don’t have to do this alone.

My Equity Statement

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may my actions contribute to the happiness and freedom of others.

Sanskrit mantra

As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I am committed to creating safe and inclusive containers for healing, self-study, and liberation. I warmly welcome and support all who seek the many gifts that the practice of yoga offers, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious belief or background, ability, or the shape and size of your body. Come as you are, and know that you are welcome, seen, and valued as the whole person you are, right now. 

Many yoga spaces in the West, as well as the wellness industry as a whole, have caused and continue to cause harm by upholding and perpetuating systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, ableism, spiritual bypassing, and colonialism. I recognize my responsibility in actively working to address the harms and being part of the solution.

As a white yoga practitioner, student and teacher, I respect the origins and traditions of this ancient practice. While I truly believe that yoga is for all people, it is my responsibility to honor the teachings and practices of this tradition with origins in a culture that is not my own.

I seek out readings and invest financially in training and consultation from BIPOC and LGBTQ teachers on how I can best show up for these communities. I acknowledge my own privilege and accept the responsibility of working to dismantle systems of oppression.

I am as dedicated to unlearning as I am to learning, to leaning into my own discomfort in order to listen more deeply, avoid spiritual bypassing, and examine my own biases. I acknowledge that my impact will always carry more weight than my intent.

Yoga teaches us that our life’s purpose is to be of service, love, and seek liberation. As a practitioner, it’s not enough that I seek my own liberation. I have to seek the liberation of all people. 

This is my commitment, and my journey. It will be flawed, but it will be real. I humbly ask that you hold me accountable. I promise that I will always be willing to listen, with an open heart.